Christian groups and leaders paid tributes to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died at age 79 Saturday, as a defender of the Founding Fathers' vision and a believer in Jesus. President Obama says he will nominate a successor, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants him to wait until after the election.
Scalia, a Reagan appointee credited with strengthening conservative jurisprudence and stressing the Constitution's original meaning, was found dead at a luxury resort in West Texas. He was a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch.
"It happened on a ranch out near Marfa. As far as the details, I think it's pretty vague right now as to how. My reaction is it's very unfortunate. It's unfortunate with any death, and politically in the presidential cycle we're in, my educated guess is nothing will happen before the next president is elected," U.S. District Judge Fred Biery said, according to mysanantonio.com.
Justice Scalia apparently died of natural causes.
"Justice Antonin Scalia stood as a champion of life, religious liberty and limited government," the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said in a statement. "The son of Italian immigrants, his life journey speaks to the power embedded when one reconciles faith with education. His presence on the court represented a firewall against judicial activism. His life should serve as both a reminder and a clarion call for us to be both vigilant and committed in defending our God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, called the judge's death "a blow to all Americans who believe in the rule of law and his adherence to an originalist's view of the Constitution."
The court's longest serving member was "one of the greatest jurists of our age," Daly said. "He was a terrific thinker with a fluid pen. Most importantly, he was a devout believer in Jesus Christ. Many of the nation's most impressive attorneys stood before him. Now, the justice stands before the ultimate Judge of the world," he continued, adding that he "attempted to save our Constitution. Now, his faith in his Lord and Savior has saved him."
Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, called Scalia "a vigorous defender of the Constitution and our liberties."
"His commitment to the text of the Constitution and the Founders' intent was second to none," she added. Few legal minds have been able to defend the Founding Father's vision for America with more force and clarity (and humor) than Scalia."
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Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Liberty Institute, said Justice Scalia was "a man of faith, committed to judicial constraint, the Constitution and preserving the rule of law."
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, also issued a statement. "With the passing of Justice Scalia, the future of the High Court and the future of America is hanging in the balance," he said.
Paying tribute to Justice Scalia, President Obama said he will nominate a successor, according to NBC News.
But Staver said, "The Senate must not confirm any nominee to the Supreme Court from President Obama. The Senate must hold off any confirmation until the next President is seated," he said, adding that the election of the next president has now taken on even greater importance. "The future of the Supreme Court and America now depends on the Senate blocking any nominee by President Obama and the people electing the right person to occupy the White House."
Alan Sears, CEO and General Counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, remembered Justice Scalia as "a true friend of ordered liberty and of all Americans." He was the "most vocal and passionate voice on the Supreme Court for religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family over the past three decades," he said.
McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said Scalia should not be replaced until after the presidential election. "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President," he said in a statement.
However, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, disagreed, saying waiting would be "shameful abdication" of the Senate's responsibility.