Scalia was 79. The cause of death of the country's longest-serving justice was not immediately known.

He was a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a resort in the Big Bend region south of Marfa, and had arrived at the 30,000-acre ranch on Friday, according to a federal official. He had also attended a private party with about 40 people on Saturday night.

Calling the senior Justice as 'larger than life' and a 'brilliant legal mind', President Barack Obama paid tribute to Scalia and said he would honour his responsibility to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by his death.

Scalia's unexpected death triggered a political tussle over the successor as political leaders on both sides of the partisan divide staked out their positions in the fierce fight to come over the nomination of the next justice that could potentially tip the balance of the court from its current 5-4 conservative majority to a liberal one.

The President's comments followed those of Republicans who wasted little time - as news of Scalia's unexpected death spread - arguing that Obama should leave the choice to his

But Obama said he plans to "fulfill my constitutional, responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time" and was quick to remind that the day was meant to "remember Justice Scalia's legacy".

The sudden death of the conservative icon has catapulted Indian-American judge Sri Srinivasan to the top of succession stakes amid intensified campaigning for the much-awaited Presidential polls.

Scalia, the first Italian-American to serve on the court, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and quickly became the kind of champion to the conservative legal world that his benefactor was in the political realm.

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