What Happens if There Is an Even Split In a Supreme Court Decision?

Recorded on September 30, 2020.

With the passing of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there are currently eight Supreme Court seats filled. What happens if, while there is a vacancy, there’s a ruling that’s a tie, split down the middle, four to four? Attorney Paul Harding of Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP is on the radio with WIZN explaining the legal procedure.

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Joe: 106.7 WIZN. That is Thin Lizzy, “The Boys are Back in Town”, heard Stevie Nicks before that. I’m Joe Vega taking you through your Wednesday Rocking Ride Home, and I’m joined now by Paul Harding from Martin, Harding & Mazzotti. Hello, Paul.

Paul: Hey, Joey. How are you?

Joe: I’m doing well. So, calling you with a question. Something I was thinking about. Of course, it’s been in the news, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, and we’re not gonna get into the whole who’s gonna replace her, and when that’s gonna happen, so just everyone that’s listening to this, just calm down. Rock and roll is bipartisan.

Paul: Hot button issue. Yeah.

Joe: Right. Yeah, yeah, hot button issue. But here’s what I am curious about is because now there are currently eight Supreme Court justices. What happens if it does take a while and there’s a ruling that’s a tie, basically, split down the middle, four to four? What happens then?

Paul: So it’s not uncommon to be at four and four. 2016 and 2017, for about 16 months, there was only 8 justices. They didn’t have the opportunity to appoint anybody new or sometimes, someone recuses, meaning a judge says, “Hey, I’m too close to this. I’ve got a personal relationship or connection.” And so they end up in this sort of eight-person panel. So if you get the four to four to your question, what happens is nothing. It’s kind of like a freeze frame. The lower court’s decision, whatever it was, remains in effect, and then the Supreme Court can take it up later.

They can wait till there’s somebody new appointed. Somebody could change their mind. “You know I thought about this. I’m gonna go this direction.” So, not uncommon, but here, I think, the backdrop, and there’s that hot button issue is is this going to somehow effect the election? And answer, maybe.

Joe: Right. It’s hard telling, not knowing.

Paul: It sure is.

Joe: Okay. Well, that interesting that it’s not set in stone. If it’s four to four, well then, they could just go back to it later, or they could just…the lower court’s decision would apply.

Paul: It does. Yeah.

Joe: So again, it’s something that I think I’ve talked about with you a few times. It’s amazing to me how often common sense does apply with a lot of these decisions, so…

Paul: When you hear something so outrageous, it blows that whole theory out of the water. But as a general proposition, yeah, you are right, common sense rules the day and the law.

Joe: Okay. Well, thank you very much for explaining that to me. Paul Harding from Martin, Harding & Mazzotti. Thanks for coming on, Paul.

Paul: All right. Thank you, Joey. Bye-bye.

Joe: Remember, you can call Martin, Harding & Mazzotti at any time at 1-800-LAW-1010 or go online to 1800law1010.com. Mel Allen takes over from here. He’s got music from Joe Walsh and Def Leppard next.