Many of the court’s recent rulings have been on 5-4 votes. A court bereft of Scalia, or a successor, is a court that can tie 4-4. In the event of a tie, the Supremes affirm whatever lower court ruling they reviewed. And when that happens it applies only to that one appellate court - no national precedent.
Whom this benefits depends on the case. Conservatives: it could leave Obama’s executive orders on immigration dead in the water. Liberals: it could leave a pro-union California federal appeals court decision in force. The federal appeals court in D.C. rules this summer on new pollution standards. Whichever way it rules, a divided Supreme Court may or may not take the case for further review.
The four liberals on the court are Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor or Kagan. The four conservatives are Kennedy, Thomas, Alito and Chief Justice Roberts. But Kennedy is more unpredictable and has voted with the liberal wing on gay rights and the death penalty.
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