How the Supreme Court Operates Without a Ninth Judge

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Answers by Tim Kaine, United States Senator from Virginia, on Quora.

A: The Supreme Court will continue to operate in the diminished state of only having eight justices. In the event of a tie, the lower court ruling would stand. Where the federal circuits are divided on an issue that results in an even split, the Supreme Court fails to establish precedent and a patchwork of laws across the country results in a lack of guidance for lower courts. Alternatively, the Supreme Court may decide to schedule the case for re-argument, but this further delays certainty for the courts and the immediate parties.

Legal experts from across the political spectrum are urging the Senate to fill the vacancy because failure to do so will undermine the rule of law. Last week, 21 Attorneys General wrote: "The states and territories have a unique and pressing interest in a full and functioning Supreme Court. We rely on the Supreme Court to resolve questions of federal law, to resolve disputes between the states, to evaluate the constitutionality of state laws, and to ensure that federal and constitutional law are interpreted and applied uniformly across all states and territories. The Supreme Court not only resolves disputes that implicate States' vital interests, it often does so in closely divided cases."


A: I would encourage you to find out where your Senators stand on the confirmation process for Judge Garland. If they oppose a hearing and vote on Judge Garland, ask them to at least do their jobs by giving President Obama's nominee the same courtesy that's been afforded to every other Supreme Court nominee in history.


A: Yes, without a doubt. Judge Garland is a well-respected jurist with impeccable qualifications and unrivaled experience. He currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is widely regarded as the second highest court in the land. He has also spent most of his legal career in government service with the U.S. Department of Justice, serving as a special assistant to the Attorney General and later as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. His legacy as an attorney includes overseeing the investigations of major domestic terrorism cases, including Oklahoma City, the Unabomber, and the bombing of the Olympics in Atlanta. In 2010, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch commented that Chief Judge Garland would be "a consensus nominee" when President Obama first considered him for the Supreme Court. This reflects the high regard that both Democrats and Republicans have for Judge Garland.

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