WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court resumed hearing arguments Monday for the first time since Justice Antonin Scalia's unexpected death and immediately plunged into a heated dispute over police powers that underscored how the remaining eight justices might find themselves increasingly deadlocked this term.
As they considered whether to give police more leeway to stop and question people in high-crime neighborhoods, the justices appeared split along familiar ideological lines, raising the possibility of what some predict could be several 4-4 votes without Scalia.
Before arguments began, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. opened the session with a tribute to Scalia, whose seat was draped with black cloth.
"He was our man for all seasons, and we shall miss him beyond measure," Roberts said.
Once arguments got underway, the justices — now evenly split between Republican and Democratic appointees — voiced starkly different views on the case.
At issue in a Utah case is whether to relax the so-called exclusionary rule and permit the use of evidence that is found after an officer illegally stops a pedestrian or motorist.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the nation was in danger of "becoming a police state" if officers can stop any person on the corner, ask for identification, check for warrants and then search them if a warrant is found.
But the chief justice said he saw no problem with an officer asking for identification from a man seen leaving a suspected drug house and checking for an outstanding arrest warrant.
The justices will meet behind closed doors to vote on the case. If a majority can agree on an outcome, they will begin writing an opinion. If not, the Utah Supreme Court ruling, which tossed the case on the grounds that the officer had no legal basis to stop the man involved, could be affirmed on a 4-4 vote.
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