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Controversial US Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia dies at 79

Published 13/02/2016

Controversial conservative US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died at 79 (The Hattiesburg American/AP)
Controversial conservative US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died at 79 (The Hattiesburg American/AP)

Antonin Scalia, the influential conservative and most provocative member of the US Supreme Court, has died at 79.

The US Marshals Service in Washington said the judge died at a private residence in the Big Bend area of West Texas.

Service spokeswoman, Donna Sellers said Mr Scalia was found dead on Saturday morning local time when he did not appear for breakfast.

Mr Scalia used his keen intellect and missionary zeal in an unyielding attempt to move the court further to the right after his 1986 appointment by President Ronald Reagan.

He also advocated tirelessly in favour of originalism, the method of constitutional interpretation that looks to the meaning of words and concepts as they were understood by the Founding Fathers.

His impact on the court was muted by his seeming disregard for moderating his views to help build consensus, although he was held in deep affection by his ideological opposites Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.

Mr Scalia and Justice Ginsburg shared a love of opera and persuaded Justice Kagan to join him on hunting trips. All three justices were from New York.

His 2008 opinion for the court in favour of gun rights drew heavily on the history of the Second Amendment and was his crowning moment on the bench. The Second Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.

He could be a strong supporter of privacy in cases involving police searches and defendants' rights. Indeed, he often said he should be the "poster child" for the criminal defence bar.

But he also voted consistently to let states outlaw abortions, to allow a closer relationship between government and religion, to permit executions and to limit lawsuits.

He was in the court's majority in the 2000 Bush v Gore decision, which effectively decided the presidential election for Republican George Bush. "Get over it," Mr Scalia would famously say at speaking engagements in the ensuing years whenever the topic arose.

Mr Bush later named one of Mr Scalia's sons, Eugene, to an administration job, but the Senate refused to confirm him. Eugene Scalia served as the Labour Department solicitor temporarily in a recess appointment.

A smoker of cigarettes and pipes, Mr Scalia enjoyed baseball, poker, hunting and the piano. He was an enthusiastic singer at court Christmas parties and other musical gatherings, and once appeared on stage with Justice Ginsburg as a Washington Opera extra.

Justice Ginsburg once said that Mr Scalia was "an absolutely charming man, and he can make even the most sober judge laugh".

She said that she urged her friend to tone down his dissenting opinions "because he'll be more effective if he is not so polemical. I'm not always successful".

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