Sotomayor: US Supreme Court still feeling loss of Scalia

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, October 18, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — The U.S. Supreme Court continues to deeply feel the loss of Justice Antonin Scalia eight months after his death, and his empty seat makes it harder for the surviving eight justices to do their job of resolving some of the country’s most vexing legal questions, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Monday.

Sotomayor, who spoke at the University of Minnesota, noted that the Supreme Court was designed to have nine justices so it can break ties on difficult cases.

“We try to come to decision-making as best as we can,” she said. “Where we can find a very, very narrow way of deciding a case, we use it.”

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Sotomayor did not directly address how filling Scalia’s seat has become a divisive issue in the presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. The GOP-controlled Senate has so far refused to act on Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to replace the conservative Scalia, saying it should be up to the next president to pick Scalia’s successor.

But those politics have complicated the internal workings of the Supreme Court, which often needs at least five votes to decide a closely contested case. A 4-4 tie means the last lower court decision stands. It also takes four votes for the high court to agree to hear a case. Sotomayor said nearly all the cases the Supreme Court takes involve disagreements between appeals courts in different federal circuits across the country.