Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been the court's premier conservative and intellectual combatant since he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

The one-time law professor's outspokenness and often scathing comments about opposing views once earned him a reputation as an intellectual bully.

In one dissent, Scalia wrote that a 1989 opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in which she sidestepped the question of whether abortion should be legal, was "irrational" and "cannot be taken seriously."

Recently, Scalia has waged a charm offensive, as it became clear that the seriously ill Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was nearing the end of his career.

Scalia's chances to move up may have received a boost when Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said after last November's election that he admired Scalia and might not oppose him for chief justice.

Despite his reputation for toughness, Scalia, 69, is known as a gentleman and a good boss to his clerks.

Born in Trenton, N.J., the Harvard Law School graduate practiced law in Cleveland before teaching at the University of Virginia, the University of Chicago, Georgetown and Stanford. He served as a federal government lawyer throughout the 1970s and then was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1982.

-- Eric Pianin