The Unheard Cases on Justice Scalia’s Docket
The late Justice Scalia’s vote on the cases to be heard on the Supreme Court’s docket may have been obvious to his fellow justices and others. However, they count for nothing in regards to the Supreme Court’s decisions. On cases where the Court splits 4-4, the only options are to leave the lower court ruling in place and have no precedent set for the rest of the country or hold the case until a replacement is confirmed. The issued opinion will read “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.” It is likely that in the event of a tie vote that the Court will order the case to be argued again once a new justice is selected.
Currently, the Court has three conservative justices: Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Thomas and Justice Alito. The liberal justices are: Justices Kagan, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor. Justice Kennedy, a Regan appointee like Scalia, is the swing vote of the Court.
Abortion: The justices will decide on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges a Taxes abortion law requiring doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at hospitals and will require clinics to have hospital-like standards. The lower court ruled in favor of the provisions. If the Supreme Court is split, this ruling would stand and the number of clinics left performing the procedure would be about 10, from the 40 currently existing.
Immigration: The court will decide on United States v. Texas, a case focused on whether President Obama’s executive actions regarding immigration were constitutional. Twenty-six states, including Texas, are challenging programs that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for work authorization and associated benefits. The lower courts have temporarily frozen the programs and are siding against the administration.
Affordable Care Act: The court is scheduled to hear Zubik v. Burwell, a challenge to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The challengers of the mandate include hospitals and universities, stating that they have religious objections with the requirement of providing birth control coverage. This was likely going to be a win for the conservatives of the Court, but is now assumed that it will end with a 4-4 opinion.
Justice Scalia did hear several cases, but passed away before the Court could issue an opinion on the cases. Many scholars made educated guesses on how the Court would be divided on each issue. Justice Scalia’s record in the Court allows scholars to predict which way he would have voted. Draft opinions written by Justice Scalia will not count towards a vote though, because an opinion is not official until it is released to the public.
However, these cases, similar to the cases that were never heard by Scalia, will be decided by an eight person Court in most cases unless a justice recuses him or herself. One of these cases is Fisher v. University of Texas, a case regarding affirmative action, where Justice Kagan recused herself due to prior involvement as solicitor general.