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The New York Times news coverage upon the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was mostly respectful (which is more than can be said about the paper’s nasty editorial thrust). But the paper’s liberal bias shone through in pondering how Scalia’s death would resonate during the election year.
The stakes here are also clear: The Republicans have held a majority on the Supreme Court for almost half a century, since the Burger Court of the early 1970s. Changing the balance of power would be seismic. Replace Justice Scalia with a Democratic nominee, and the court’s recent conservative rulings, which have limited voting rights and hobbled campaign finance reform, could go by the wayside. The constitutional right to abortion would be on far firmer footing, along with affirmative action, union dues and Mr. Obama’s plans to help undocumented immigrants and address climate change. The court could even decide to end the death penalty.
These are big shifts, either terrifying or thrilling to contemplate, depending on your political stance. It is obviously good politics for Mr. McConnell, Mr. Cruz and anyone else courting the conservative base to promise not to let the Supreme Court flip.
Senator Mitch McConnell’s strategy to maintain the Republican majority has been clear: trying to prove that his party can govern. But by saying he will block a Supreme Court nominee who has not even been named, Mr. McConnell is headed toward partisan warfare instead.
The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has energized a right flank that has been long suspicious of Mr. McConnell and forced him into a fight that is likely to derail his smooth-functioning Senate. The tactic could alienate moderate voters and imperil incumbent Republicans in swing states, but in the supercharged partisanship of a Supreme Court fight, he probably had no choice. By framing his decision as deferring to voters in the next election, people close to him say he has minimized the political risk.