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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, known for his fiery comments on and off the bench, has died, Texas' governor says. He was 79.
"Justice Antonin Scalia was 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," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. "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 was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986 under President Ronald Reagan, who named him as associate justice. A lawyer by trade, he entered public service in the 1970s as general counsel for President Richard Nixon and as the assistant attorney general.
As a Supreme Court justice, Scalia, a conservative, gained a reputation for offering blunt dissents. Most recently, in December, he came under fire from civil rights attorneys and black lawmakers after suggesting African-American students might fare better in a "slower-track school" while hearing a case about race-based admissions.
But it was his comments over the years on gay rights that often caused the biggest waves: When the high court legalized gay marriage nationwide last June, Scalia said in his dissent, "Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms?"
"And if intimacy is, one would think that Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie," he wrote.
His candor wasn't limited to the four walls of the high court. During a 2012 visit to Princeton University, a gay freshman asked Scalia about the comparison he had drawn in the past between banning sodomy and banning bestiality and murder.
"If we cannot have moral feelings against or objections to homosexuality, can we have it against anything?" Scalia said in response to the question, according to The Daily Princetonian.
The last Supreme Court justice to die while serving was Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, in September 2005. Rehnquist was the first to die in office since Justice Robert Jackson in 1954 and the first Chief Justice since Fred Vinson in 1953.
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Scalia has Italian roots. He was slated to teach in Paris this summer for the San Diego-based Thomas Jefferson School of Law.