The (Worcester) Telegram & Gazette (Mass.), Feb. 16:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia played a towering role in legal history during his three decades on the court, and in death will play an equally outsize role in political history in a precedent-setting battle over his successor.

Like President Reagan, who nominated him, Justice Scalia’s contributions came not just in legal battles won and in his ringing dissents on the losing side but in also inspiring a new generation of conservative thinkers among lawyers and judges in his “Originalist” readings of the Constitution. And like Mr. Reagan, he was a larger than life personality, this son of Italian immigrants, whose positions and legal disagreements didn’t seem to affect his ability to forge friendships, such as with fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that transcended legal divides.

Justice Scalia’s death has reshaped the political battleground between Democrats and Republicans.

About an hour after his death was announced on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement that the president should not nominate anyone in his final year so that the American people could have a say through the election of a new president. Then, just minutes before Saturday night’s Republican debate, President Obama payed tribute to Justice Scalia and also added that he planned to nominate a successor in due time. All the Republican candidates on the debate stage said they supported blocking any nomination this year .

His death highlights the stakes in the presidential primaries. And it brings to the forefront November’s U.S. Senate races in which 34 of the 100 Senate seats are due to be contested. Republicans hold a four-seat majority, and have 24 seats in play in November’s election; while the Democrats only have 10. The leadership of both parties is developing ways to hold their own seats and eat into the opposing party’s counts. But a tight presidential race with short coattails is unlikely to shift the balance.

His death also directly impacts pending court decisions already made but not yet announced in which Justice Scalia’s vote represents a tie breaker. Four-to-four decisions do not carry precedent, and allow the lower court decision to stand.

What follows is likely to be a subtle yet potentially brutal political process. President Obama has every right to nominate a successor, and could reach for someone who might appeal to Republicans. If so, do they still block it? Would an emerging Donald Trump candidacy be seen as viable by the Republican leadership? While still early, Mr. Trump, like Mr. Reagan in battling George H.W. Bush at this point in the year, also finished second in Iowa and then blew away the competition in New Hampshire. Mr. Reagan took South Carolina, the fifth state to vote that year, by 25 percentage points in building to the nomination.

The politics of Supreme Court nominations can be ugly, including the Democratic assault on Robert H. Bork, another brilliant conservative who served with Judge Scalia on the same U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., who was nominated by President Reagan the year after Justice Scalia. Judge Bork was rejected following a Democratic campaign so rancorous that “to Bork” someone came into the political lexicon of the period.

The outcome of this battle will reshape the court for another generation. Would it be a more strategic position for Republicans to accept a moderate nominee from President Obama with the potential to dictate the court’s makeup during the term of the next president? As if stakes couldn’t be higher, Justice Ginsberg, nearly 83, is older than Justice Scalia, who was 79, while Justice Kennedy is the same age, and Justice Stephen Breyer, at 77, is just two years younger.

In this case, the long game may be the smarter game.