It only took a nine-word sentence to summarize an eight-justice paralysis: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 4-4 decision in Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore on Tuesday, its first deadlocked result since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. Senate Republicans have vowed to not confirm any replacement until a new president is inaugurated, meaning that today’s ruling is likely to be the first of many.
The Court did not indicate how the individual justices voted in Hawkins. Scalia’s death left the high court evenly divided between the four liberal and four conservative justices. Most cases on the Court’s docket are not resolved by 5-4 votes along those divisions, but major ones often are. A series of clashes on abortion rights, affirmative action, public-sector unions, and other high-profile issues were likely to be decided along a 5-4 vote.
Hawkins is a low-profile case by comparison. But it signals how that paralysis can extend beyond politically controversial issues and into the mundane workings of American law. The appeal was brought by Valerie Hawkins and Janice Patterson, who sought to challenge a bank’s requirement that they guarantee their husbands’ business loans. This, they said, made them liable for the loans and damaged their credit.