Antonin Scalia, the judicial firebrand who stood as the intellectual leader of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative wing during his three-decade tenure as a justice, died Saturday at a ranch in western Texas. He was 79 years old.
“He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues. His passing is a great loss to the Court and the country he so loyally served,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement on behalf of the Court.
President Obama, who will have the opportunity to nominate Scalia’s successor, offered his sympathies to the justice’s family on Saturday night. “He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges to serve on the Supreme Court,” he said.
Scalia articulated a straightforward role for jurists during his 29-year career on the Court. The Constitution should be read as the Founders wrote it, he often argued, and laws should be interpreted as they are written. He rejected the idea of an evolving “living Constitution,” claimed by some of his colleagues. “I just say, ‘Let’s cut it out. Go back to the good, old dead Constitution,’” he told NPR in 2008.
Only he and Clarence Thomas championed originalism on the Supreme Court for most of his tenure, limiting the doctrine’s impact. Its adherents also initially found little room in the academy. “You could fire a grapefruit out of a cannon over the best law schools in the country—and that includes Chicago—and not hit an originalist,” he told a group of University of Chicago law students in 2003. But Scalia’s enthusiasm helped the school of legal thought enter the mainstream, with law schools such as Harvard eventually hiring professors who favor it.