Update 5:50pm PT
President Obama just delivered a statement on Scalia's passing, offering his condolences and also mapping out his plan to full Scalia's place on the bench.
“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 plenty of time for the Senate to fulfill its responsibilities to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote…. These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone. They’re bigger than any one party- they’re about our democracy. They’re about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life…”
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was the longest-serving justice on the Court after being nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
He was found dead in his room at a luxury guest ranch in West Texas, the US Marshals Service confirmed.
It is reported that he died of natural causes a day after quail hunting with a party of about 40.
OFFICIAL STATEMENT from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. pic.twitter.com/iSMMmAUxYY
— Jason Whitely (@JasonWhitely) February 13, 2016
Robert Shrum, a longtime political consultant and Professor of the Practice of Political Science at USC, said that the nomination process to replace Scalia will be a difficult one in a Republican-controlled Senate.
Senate Majority Leader and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell confirmed as much in a statement released shortly after Scalia's death was confirmed: "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."
Scalia was a conservative on a split bench, heralded for his defense of the Constitution in the Supreme Court and revered by the right wing.
"In practical terms it means that in a lot of issues, you'll have a court that's divided 4-4," Shrum explained.
He said hot-button constitutional issues like abortion rights and gay marriage will factor heavily into the decision to bar or approve a nomination made by the liberal president.
"There will be tremendous opposition among Republicans to approve any nomination from President Obama," Shrum said.
It's been 25 years since a president asked a Senate run by the opposing party to confirm a Supreme Court nominee (Clarence Thomas).
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) February 13, 2016
Shrum also said that Scalia's death will soon become a part of the 2016 election cycle. With Obama in the final months of presidency, blocking his nominee could mean a Republican ends up making the appointment.
"But that can have problems for them in terms of the election because it would make them look completely obstructionist," Shrum said.
The news broke hours before a Republican debate, almost ensuring the topic will be addressed by the GOP candidates. In an immediate response, though, several took to Twitter to express their thoughts.
The totally unexpected loss of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a massive setback for the Conservative movement and our COUNTRY!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2016
Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 13, 2016
Jeanette & I mourn the loss of Justice Scalia, and our thoughts & prayers are with his wife Maureen & his family. pic.twitter.com/e03KRZRM6q
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 13, 2016
"No matter who [Obama's nominee is], the obstruction by the Republicans will not only become an issue, but the reason will become an issue," Shrum said. "That might be that they want to undo Roe v. Wade, they want to roll back the various equality decisions, or stop the president's executive order on immigration. This keys into all of the hot-button social issues that are out there now."
Shrum said he has no predictions on who President Obama's nominee will be.
We will continue to update this story as it develops.
Reach Executive Editor Martha Daniel here.