President Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset on the day that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is interred.
Scalia, 79, died in his sleep while at a Texas ranch with friends on a hunting trip.
The father of nine served on the highest court in the land for nearly three decades.
Obama was golfing at PGA West’s Stadium Course in Southern California when the news broke. After his game, he headed to the Omni Rancho Mirage to praise Scalia as “a brilliant legal mind with an energetic style, incisive wit, and colorful opinions.”
“He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court,” Obama said. “Justice Scalia dedicated his life to the cornerstone of our democracy: the rule of law. Tonight, we honor his extraordinary service to our nation and remember one of the towering legal figures of our time.”
The president noted that Scalia and “his dear colleague and friend, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg,” were both avid opera fans. Scalia once referred to himself and the liberal justice — his frequent vacation partner — as “the odd couple.”
“Obviously, today is a time to remember Justice Scalia’s legacy. I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so, and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote,” Obama continued.
“These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone. They’re bigger than any one party. They are about our democracy. They’re about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life, and making sure it continues to function as the beacon of justice that our Founders envisioned.”
Deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said Obama called Scalia’s son Eugene, a partner at law firm Gibson Dunn LLP in D.C., tonight and “extended his sympathies on behalf of the First Family and the country.”
Vice President Joe Biden noted in a statement that “Justice Scalia and I had fundamental disagreements about how the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, but we shared a belief that sharp debates, tough questions, and deep respect for the adversarial process was an essential part of our judicial system and our democracy.”
“That’s how our rule of law—forged with the deep principles and convictions of justices, and laid out in majority decisions and minority dissents—becomes the model for the world,” Biden said. “For the country, Justice Scalia will be remembered as one of our most influential justices, who inspired and challenged generations of students, clerks, lawyers, and judges.”
“And for so many, he will be remembered as a mentor, dear friend, and a man devoted to his faith and his family, who will miss him most of all, and who we will keep in our prayers.”
Among Senate Democrats, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) remembered Scalia as a man “with a strong devotion to his principles” who “left an indelible mark on the Supreme Court and the laws of the United States.”
“While I differed with Justice Scalia’s views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing.”
Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said “there is no doubt Justice Antonin Scalia was a brilliant man.”
“We had our differences and I disagreed with many of his opinions, but he was a dedicated jurist and public servant. I offer my condolences to his family,” Reid said, before firing a preemptive strike at Senate Republicans who will try to delay a nomination for Scalia’s replacement until the next president.
In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was “deeply saddened” by the death of Scalia, “who made history as the first Italian American named to the Supreme Court.”
“Through this community, I saw his pride in his heritage and, more importantly, his dedication to his beautiful family,” Pelosi said. “Whether or not you agreed with him, Justice Antonin Scalia served our nation with deep patriotism and distinction on the Supreme Court for nearly 30 years. He has been one of the strongest voices in the great American debate around our Constitution.”
“He leaves behind a formidable record of jurisprudence, and a fierce articulation of his understanding of the Constitution.”