Antonin Scalia, the longest-serving current Justice on the Supreme Court, died in his sleep last night after a day of quail hunting at a ranch outside of Marfa, Texas. The 79-year-old justice, who did not say he was feeling sick and had gone to his room after dinner, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
When Scalia did not show up for breakfast this morning, someone went looking for him and found him dead, apparently of natural causes. There was no evidence of foul play, a federal official told the San Antonio Express-News, but the death is still being investigated by the FBI, Presido County Sheriff, and U.S. Marshal Service.
The death was later confirmed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who released a statement calling Scalia a "man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law."
"He was the solid rock who turned away so many attempts to depart from and distort the Constitution," the statement said. "His fierce loyalty to the Constitution set an unmatched example, not just for judges and lawyers, but for all Americans. We mourn his passing, and we pray that his successor on the Supreme Court will take his place as a champion for the written Constitution and the Rule of Law."
Scalia, who was born in Trenton, N.J. in 1936, was known for his sharp wit and conservative arguments. An only child, he was given the nickname "Nino" in his youth. After his family moved to the Queens borough of New York City, he won a scholarship to a military academy and used to tell stories to his fellow justices about his days "riding the New York subway carrying a rifle for drill practice," reports the Los Angeles Times.
After being rejected by Princeton University, he enrolled at Jesuit-run Georgetown University and went on to become the school's valedictorian and later attended Harvard Law School. He and his wife, Maureen McCarthy, had nine children. Before joining the High Court, he was appointed to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1982.