The death of Justice Antonin Scalia will have an immediate effect on numerous cases pending before the court, including several that were expected to be decided by 5-4 votes along ideological or political lines.
• Now, some of those votes could deadlock 4-4, meaning the justices would have two options. They could vote to hear the case a second time when a new colleague joins them, or they could hand down a one-sentence opinion that upholds the result reached in the lower court without setting a nationwide rule. When conirmation of a new justice is expected to happen quickly, re-argument is more likely. In the current political environment, the vacancy could last into 2017.
• Here are some of the key cases this term:
Unions have suffered a string of defeats at the Supreme Court, and that is likely to change, at least in the short term. Many of the cases involving organized labor were decided on 5-4 votes, with the conservative justices lining up against the unions and the liberal justices in support. A pending case seemed like more of the same. Public sector labor unions had been bracing for a stinging defeat in a lawsuit over whether they can collect fees from government workers who choose not to join the union. The case affects more than 5 million workers in 23 states and Washington, D.C., and seeks to overturn a nearly 40-year-old Supreme Court decision. Now, what seemed like a certain 5-4 split instead looks like a tie that would be resolved in favor of the unions, because they won in the lower courts.
The court in April plans to hear the Obama administration's appeal of a Texas judge's order that blocked President Barack Obama's executive action authorizing deportation protection and work permits for more than 4 million immigrants who are living here illegally. If Justice Anthony Kennedy were to join with the court's four liberals, they could set aside the judge's order and allow Obama's plan to take effect in his final months in office. However, if Kennedy votes with the three remaining conservatives to say Obama's order was illegal, the court would be deadlocked, thereby keeping the judge's order in place and blocking Obama's program from taking effect.
On March 2, the court is set to hear a case testing whether conservative states such as Texas can adopt stringent medical regulations that would force many abortion clinics to close down. A U.S. appeals court upheld the state's regulations, but then the justices blocked them from taking effect by a 5-4 vote, with Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority and Scalia in dissent. If Kennedy joins with the four liberals, the court could strike down the Texas regulations by a 5-3 vote. But if he joins with the conservatives to rule for Texas, the court would be split 4-4 and unable to issue a ruling.
The court has agreed to decide whether Catholic charities and other religiously affiliated groups may opt out of providing employees certain contraceptives, including what they believe are "abortion inducing" drugs. This is seen as a major test of religious liberty, as well as a challenge to the Affordable Care Act. But without Scalia, the court may be split 4-4 and unable to rule. Most courts across the nation have ruled for the Obama administration and upheld the "contraceptive mandate" on the grounds that the religious entities are not required to pay for the disputed drugs.
The court is considering a case that could shift how voting districts are drawn. Conservative challengers said the current system, which relies on counting all people, discriminates in favor of areas that have a large percentage of immigrants, children, prisoners and others who are not citizens or not eligible to vote. Without Scalia, the conservative lawyers who brought the case are unlikely to prevail.
The court in December weighed whether it was time to end the use of race in college admissions at the University of Texas and nationwide. Justice Elena Kagan sat out the case because she worked on it at an earlier stage when she was at the Justice Department.
Sources: The Associated Press, Tribune Washington Bureau, Tribune News Services, abc7news.com, U.S. News