LOS ANGELES (CBSLA,com) —  Southland legal scholars and elected officials are joining those around the nation today in reacting to the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away while on a hunting trip in Texas Saturday, apparently of natural causes.

“This is huge. Scalia has been such a dominant conservative force on the Court,” said Laurie Levenson, professor of law and David W. Burcham Chair of Ethical Advocacy at Loyola Law School. “There are big cases before the Court this term, including those affecting affirmative action and abortion. His voice was sure to have an impact on those cases.”

“As for the long-term impact, the real question is whether (President) Obama will be able to get a replacement confirmed before the election,” Levenson said.

White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz released a statement earlier Saturday from Rancho Mirage, where President Barack Obama is staying, ahead of meetings with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Monday and Tuesday:

“This afternoon the President was informed of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia,” the statement read. “The President and First Lady extend their deepest condolences to Justice Scalia’s family. We’ll have additional reaction from the President later today.”

Around 5:45 p.m., the President addressed the nation and praised Scalia for his 30 years of service on the bench.

The U.S. Marshall’s Service in Washington confirmed Scalia’s death today. The 79-year-old justice was staying on a luxury ranch in the Big Bend area of South Texas, according to The Associated Press.

The passing of Scalia, a staunch conservative, leaves the nine-member court with a vacancy, and with conservatives and liberals on the court now split 4-4, it is sure to roil the presidential campaign.

President Obama said he  will nominate someone to fill Scalia’s seat, but that nomination must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, a process that has grown increasingly partisan in the years since Scalia was confirmed by a 98-0 vote in1986.

The six leading GOP candidates for president all agreed during a debate Saturday that President Obama should wait on an appointment and let the next president decide. He said at the press conference that he fully planned on carrying out his Constitutional responsibility to fill the vacancy.

Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean and professor at the UC Irvine School of Law, says Scalia’s death “leaves a pivotal vacancy on the Court,”

He added, “President Obama should nominate someone quickly and put pressure on the Senate to confirm and not leave a vacancy for the rest of this term and all of the next.”

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris issued a statement on Scalia’s passing.

“My condolences go out to Justice Scalia’s family and his colleagues on the Court who mourn his loss. In his three decades on the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia left a lasting impression on American jurisprudence. Even those of us who vigorously disagreed with his views recognized the power of his intellect.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich released a statement mourning Scalia’s passing.

“The passing of Justice Scalia is a great shock and tremendous loss for our judicial system,” Antonovich said. “…Justice Scalia was a titan in the conservative movement and constitutional scholarship. He leaves a legacy for future generations with an unwavering commitment to justice and dedication to American values.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Republicans on Saturday for suggesting President Obama let the next president fill  Antonin Scalia’s chair.

“The Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail who are calling for Justice Scalia’s seat to remain vacant dishonor our Constitution,” she said in a statement.

Speaking at a Democratic fundraiser in Denver, she said, “Barack Obama is the president of the United States until Jan. 20, 2017. That is a fact, my friends, whether Republicans like it or not.”

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