Democratic presidential candidate Bernie SandersBernie SandersAFL-CIO endorses Ellison for DNC chair Bernie Sanders is Democrats' person of the year Sanders campaign manager: Don't buy David Brock's blame game for Clinton loss MORE late Saturday called conservative Justice Antonin Scalia a “brilliant, colorful and outspoken” member of the Supreme Court.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing,” he added.
Scalia's death, during a hunting trip Saturday in Texas, will spark a mammoth fight over who should replace him in the heat of a presidential election cycle.
There is likely to be significant pressure on the Republican-held Senate to hold off on confirming anyone nominated by President Obama, who is in his last year in office.
Democrats, however, quickly called on the upper chamber to consider an Obama nominee to replace Scalia.
"The American people deserve to have a fully functioning Supreme Court," said Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyThe Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report Passing US-Canada preclearance would improve security and economy MORE (D-Vt.).
"The Supreme Court of the United States is too important to our democracy for it to be understaffed for partisan reasons. It is only February. The president and the Senate should get to work without delay to nominate, consider and confirm the next justice to serve on the Supreme Court.”
The Supreme Court is also likely to be a huge issue in the 2016 battle for the Senate majority.