US Supreme Court Justice Scalia died of heart attack: Report

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Cibolo Creek Ranch Owner: Justice Antonin Scalia's Death Was 'Peaceful'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates hardened their positions on Sunday on blocking a move by President Barack Obama to fill the seat left by the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment that would help decide some of the most divisive issues facing Americans.

READ MORE: Experts predict who will succeed Antonin Scalia

The next justice could tilt the balance of the nation's highest court, which was left with four conservatives and four liberals. The vacancy quickly became an issue in the 2016 presidential race.

"We ought to make the 2016 election a referendum on the Supreme Court," U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

See more on the Antonin Scalia's life below:

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US Supreme Court Justice Scalia died of heart attack: Report
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2014 file photo Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks in Washington. Scalia is joining the debate over the Senate's torture report by saying itâs hard to rule out the use of extreme measures to extract information if millions of lives were threatened. Scalia told a Swiss broadcast network that American and European liberals who say such tactics may never be used are being self-righteous. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf, File)
WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 21: United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia (R) arrives at the American Enterprise Institue February 21, 2006 in Washington, DC. Justice Scalia delivered the keynote address about foreign law and the debate about how it is used in American Law during the seminar called 'Outsourcing Of American Law.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 10: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia walks October 10, 2005 in the annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City. This is the 61st Columbus Parade which celebrates both the explorer and Italian cultural influence on America. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 29: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia addresses the Philadelphia Bar Association during a luncheon April 29, 2004 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Scalia presented the first Antonin Scalia Award to Philadelphia lawyer and former American Bar President Jerome J. Shestack. Scalia is the third U.S. Supreme Court Justice to Address the Philadelphia Bar Association members in less than a year. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES: US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (L) attends inaugural ceremonies 20 January 2w005 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. US President George W. Bush was sworn in for a second term in a solemn ceremony held under unprecedented security on the steps of the US Capitol. (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A.CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
ANN ARBOR, MI - JANUARY 25: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at the fifth annual Ava Maria School of Law lecture January 25, 2005 on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Scalia talked about religion and U.S. Constitution. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
384802 07: (FILE PHOTO) This undated file photo shows Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC. (Photo by Liaison)
382727 01: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia talks with opera star Placido Domingo at a gala opening night dinner following a Washington Opera performance Oct 21, 2000 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Karin Cooper/Liaison)
382727 17: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia looks at a painting during an opening at the National Gallery of Art September 27, 2000 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Karin Cooper/Liaison)
371151 07: Louis Freeh, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, left, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia applaud during the Mass of Installation for Archbishop Edward Egan June 19, 2000 at St. Patrick''s Cathedral in New York. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Newsmakers)
382727 05: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia attends a National Gallery of Art opening ceremony September 27, 2000 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Karin Cooper/Liaison)
WASHINGTON - APRIL 29: (L-R) Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Jason Binn, and Charles Merinoff inside the Correspondent's After Party hosted by Capitol File Magazine on April 29, 2006 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Nancy Ostertag/Getty Images)
Associate Justice Antonin Scalia joins the members of the Supreme Court for photos during a group portrait session, at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Monday, Oct. 31, 2005. President Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat Sept. 26, 1986. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a formal portrait in Washington, April 15, 1988. From left, front row are: Associate Justices Thurgood Marshall; William Brennan, Jr.; Chief Justice William Rehnquist; Byron White; and Harry Blackmun. Back row from left are: Antonin Scalia; John Paul Stevens; Sandra Day O'Connor; and the court's newest member, Anthony M. Kennedy. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia administers the oath of allegiance to new citizens, during a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the Soldiersâ National Cemetery and President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, in Gettysburg, Pa. Lincoln's speech was first delivered in Gettysburg nearly five months after the major battle that left tens of thousands of men wounded, dead or missing. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia jokes about his experiences as a law student at a program with fellow Justice Elena Kagan, Monday, Dec. 15, 2014 at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. Both justices spoke to an open audience of professionals, professors, students and area residents about their law school and professional experiences as well as some of their court decisions. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gives the keynote speech at the Snake River Adjudication celebration dinner at the Boise Center on the Grove in Boise, Idaho, on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stands at the edge of the stage after a question and answer session delivered as part of a lecture series at Tufts University, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, in Medford, Mass. Scalia, who has served on the nation's highest court since 1986 following a nomination by President Ronald Reagan, spoke about interpreting the U.S. Constitution. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)
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The normally nine-justice court is set to decide this year its first major abortion case in nearly a decade, as well as cases on voting rights, affirmative action and immigration.

Scalia, 79, died on Saturday at a West Texas resort.

RELATED: Reaction to Scalia's death on social media:

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US Supreme Court Justice Scalia died of heart attack: Report
The totally unexpected loss of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a massive setback for the Conservative movement and our COUNTRY!
My statement on the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: https://t.co/vxgIicZxYy
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.
#Scalia death thrusts the Supreme Court 2016 presidential contest - if the Senate won't confirm an Obama pick, kicks to POTUS 45 #GOPDebate
Justice Scalia was a defender of the constitution, an important conservative voice in the court. He will be missed. https://t.co/cOB3juvx7A
Devastating lose of Justice Scalia. A legal giant who steered the Supreme Court onto the Constitution. God Bless him.
God bless Anthony Scalia, finest Sup Ct Justice RIP
Sorry to hear of the sudden passing of Judge #Scalia, a strong and conservative voice on the SCOTUS.
Antonin Scalia was a leader, a protector of our constitutional rights. His influence will be missed. Our prayers are with his family.
My prayers are with the family of #JusticeScalia.
A great light has gone out. Justice Scalia was a great protector of freedom & liberty. He will be missed.
#RIP Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the greatest constitutional scholars to ever serve #US on the bench. Thoughts are with his family.
I'm very sorry to learn of the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia - a defender of the Constitution and a dedicated public servant.
I offer my condolences to the family of Justice Scalia. The nation is grateful for his nearly 30 years of service on the Supreme Court.
Saddened by the loss of Justice Antonin Scalia. He proudly served our country & defended our Constitution. My prayers are with his family.
Very sad to hear of Justice Antonin Scalia's death today. He will be missed as a champion of the Constitution and rule of law. #SCOTUS
My thoughts are with Justice Scalia's family. Though I didn't share his philosophy, I admired his patriotism.
Jeanette & I mourn the loss of Justice Scalia, and our thoughts & prayers are with his wife Maureen & his family. https://t.co/e03KRZRM6q
My thoughts and prayers are with Justice Scalia's family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing. https://t.co/Y51xUMMEId
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Obama, a Democrat, said on Saturday that he would nominate someone to fill the empty seat, setting up a battle with the Republican-controlled Senate, which must approve any nominee.

Republicans quickly vowed not to act on the vacancy until Obama's successor takes office next January. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said failure to act would be a "shameful abdication" of the Senate's constitutional duty.

Both sides claimed history was on their side.

Reid said it would be unprecedented to have a vacancy on the court for a year. In the modern era, the longest Supreme Court vacancy was 363 days after Abe Fortas resigned in May 1969.

Watch more coverage:

How Scalia Shaped Conservative Legal Theory

Republicans cited 80 years of tradition in which no Supreme Court nominees were approved in presidential election years. In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy was approved in 1988, after a bruising battle in which the Senate rejected President Ronald Reagan's first nominee, conservative Robert Bork.

Supreme Court nominations are rare, so neither side has much data to rely on in determining precedents. History is also an unreliable guide as the nomination process has become significantly more politicized in recent years.

DEEP DIVISIONS

Ohio Governor John Kasich, a moderate among the Republicans vying for the White House, said the Senate should wait because a battle this year would only deepen divisions in the country.

"You know how polarized everything is," Kasich said on ABC's "This Week." "What I don't want to see is more fighting and more recrimination."

Democratic U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy warned that a delay could have consequences in November's election, when voters get to decide who fills one-third of the Senate's seats.

"If the Republican leadership refuses to even hold a hearing, I think that is going to guarantee they lose control of the Senate, because I don't think the American people will stand for that," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

RELATED: Scenes outside of the Supreme Court:

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Supreme Court - flag at half mast for Antonin Scalia - SCOTUS
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US Supreme Court Justice Scalia died of heart attack: Report
A candle is seen at the steps of the US Supreme Court February 13, 2016 in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia, a fiery conservative who helped shape American legal thought, was first appointed to the highest court in the land in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, making him the first Italian-American to serve there. Scalia was 79. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A worship announcement is posted in front of the United Methodist Building across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington where the flag flies at half-staff in honor of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
A U.S. flag flies at half-staff in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, after is was announced that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 79, had died. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
A flag at the US Supreme Court is lowered to half staff February 13, 2016 in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia, a fiery conservative who helped shape American legal thought, was first appointed to the highest court in the land in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, making him the first Italian-American to serve there. Scalia was 79. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13: The American flag flies at half mast at the U.S. Supreme Court February 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was at a Texas Ranch Saturday morning when he died at the age of 79. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13: A young man places a candle light in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., February 13, 2016, after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia died today on a ranch near San Antonio, TX. He was 79. (Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The US Supreme Court is seen February 13, 2016 in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia, a fiery conservative who helped shape American legal thought, was first appointed to the highest court in the land in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, making him the first Italian-American to serve there. Scalia was 79. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of the US Capitol from the Supreme Court February 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of the US Supreme Court on February 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a fiery conservative who helped shape American legal thought, died on February 13, 2016. He was 79. Scalia, the longest-serving justice on the high court, died in his sleep while on a hunting trip in Texas, local media reported. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The US Capitol is seen from US Supreme Court February 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who helped shape the legal thought of his time, has died, the governor of his home state of Texas confirmed Saturday, February 13, 2016. He was 79. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The US Supreme Court is seen February 13, 2016 in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia, a fiery conservative who helped shape American legal thought, was first appointed to the highest court in the land in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, making him the first Italian-American to serve there. Scalia was 79. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said the Constitution was clear. "The president makes the appointment, Senate confirms, let's get on with that business," the senator said on "Fox News Sunday."

Cruz, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee that takes the lead on Supreme Court nominees, said the vacancy left by Scalia makes the presidential election even more critical.

He warned that a justice chosen by Sanders or his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, would mean the Second Amendment right to bear arms would be "written out" of the Constitution and abortion on demand would become the law of the land.

Cruz lumped Donald Trump in with the Democrats, saying the Republican front-runner's views were indistinguishable from theirs.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, another White House rival, said he would want someone who echoed Scalia's "originalist" ideology that looks at the U.S. Constitution through the lens of its framers' 18th-century intentions.

"Does the person that we are nominating have a consistent and proven record of interpreting the Constitution as initially meant?" Rubio said.

Trump, appearing on NBC, was more direct when asked what he would want: "Someone just like Justice Scalia."

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