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Chief justice remembers Scalia’s ‘irrepressible spirit’

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, right, and Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, left, greet Washington Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl Saturday as they leave the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington after attending funeral services for Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

WASHINGTON – Chief Justice John Roberts on Monday remembered the late Justice Antonin Scalia as a friend and colleague of “irrepressible spirit” as the Supreme Court resumed work for the first time since Scalia’s death.

“He was our man for all seasons and we will miss him beyond measure,” Roberts said in brief remarks after the court’s eight remaining justices took the bench.

Roberts recounted Scalia’s humble roots in New Jersey, his graduation at the top of his class at Georgetown University and his stellar performance at Harvard Law School. As a top attorney at the Justice Department, Roberts said Scalia argued his first and only case before the Supreme Court in 1976.

“He prevailed, establishing a perfect record before the court,” Roberts said to laughter.

Scalia became the 103rd justice confirmed to the high court in 1986, Roberts noted, and wrote 292 majority opinions for the court.

“He was also known on occasion to dissent,” Roberts said to more laughter.

The high court is resuming work just two days after the justices and thousands of dignitaries, friends and family mourned his loss at a funeral Mass in Washington.

The void created by Scalia’s death was visible on Monday. His chair, in its usual place to the right of Roberts, was draped in black wool crepe, which will remain until next month.

Only in late March do the justices plan to switch seats in line with their seniority on the court. Justice Anthony Kennedy is now the longest-serving member of the court, with 28 years of experience.

President Barack Obama has vowed to nominate a candidate to take Scalia’s seat, but Senate Republicans, backed by their party’s presidential contenders, have pledged to block anyone Obama puts forward. Republicans have said the choice should await the next president.

Scalia’s sharp questioning of lawyers transformed arguments into lively sessions in which the justices sometimes seemed to be talking to each other, rather than to the lawyers arguing before them.

Roberts devoted just a few minutes to Scalia before turning to arguments in two cases before the court. One involves a dispute over preferences given to military veterans seeking Veterans Administration contracts. The other case concerns whether evidence of a crime should be thrown out of court because the police did something wrong or illegal that led to the discovery of the evidence.

One of the term’s biggest cases, a challenge to Texas’ strict regulation of abortion clinics, awaits the court next week.

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