High Court Ends Hiatus One Justice Short

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February 21, 2016

The Supreme Court returns for business on Monday, without Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia, who died at 79 of natural causes, has been honored with a memorial service attended by thousands of family members and dignitaries. Others, including political and legal leaders from several countries, have paid their respects while Scalia has lain in state in Washington, D.C.

The eight remaining members of the Court are Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, and Clarence Thomas.

President Barack Obama has said that he will soon nominate someone to replace Scalia. The Senate has the responsibility of confirming or not confirming a President’s nominations to the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee has public hearings for the nominee, asking that person questions about his or her legal background and how he or she might approach future legal cases. Then, the Judiciary Committee recommends whether the nominee should be voted on by the full 100 members of the Senate. A nominee who receives 51 votes in favor of his or her nomination joins the Supreme Court and serves either for life or until he or she retires.

Some Republican leaders have said that the current members of the Court should carry on without Scalia and that the winner of the November presidential election, not the current President, should have the right to forward the nomination. Whoever wins the election would become President on Jan. 20, 2017.

The Court at the moment has eight members. Any cases that result in an equal number of Justices’ voting to affirm or deny a lower court’s decision are then viewed as affirming that lower court’s decision. The current members of the Court have voted along ideological lines in many cases, and the current ideological split is 4–4.

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