SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A Missouri case has caused the U.S. Supreme Court to reach its first split decision since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
On Tuesday, the court split 4-4 in Hawkins vs. Community Bank of Raymore, a case pertaining to federal financial regulations.
Split decisions have occurred before when there is a vacancy on the court or if a judge recuses him or herself from a case, but these types of decisions are rare.
Drury University Political Science Professor Daniel Ponder said Supreme Court decisions typically create a legal precedent for the entire country to follow.
“It sends a signal to lower courts or to states or to public institutions, universities for example that this is the way the law has been interpreted and this is how you need to go forth,” Ponder said.
The Kansas City area banking case was argued in the federal eighth circuit and judges in the sixth circuit heard a similar case.
But when split 4-4 after hearing the eighth circuit case, the justices wrote just nine words: “the judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court,” which effectively confirmed the eighth circuit ruling but was unbinding on the rest of the country.
“That’s why 4-4’s, generally speaking, are not a good idea because you have federal law applying to different people in different circuits at the same time,” Ponder said.
“This is not an issue that I’m running away from,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, at a campaign event in Springfield Monday. “I’m more than willing to cast a vote if that’s the thing that we have the time to do, but I wouldn’t vote for him.”
Blunt said the Senate should hold off on confirming a nominee until after the presidential election, so people can have a say.
Current Justice Anthony Kennedy was the last justice to be confirmed in an election year in 1988.
“The counter argument to that of course is that they did have a say when they elected this president in 2012 for four years,” Ponder said. “So you can understand why it’s going back and forth, but to say there’s no precedent for this, that’s an inaccurate statement.”
With Scalia’s vacancy and several justices getting up there in age, Ponder expects that split decisions will continue to make the court one of the biggest issues of the election.
The Supreme Court could split in a case involving whether Christian non-profits have to provide health insurance that covers contraception, and is also considering President Obama’s executive orders on immigration.