At the end of June, the Supreme Court issued the final decisions of the term that began in October 2016. By Supreme Court standards, it was a relatively quiet term—no cases on the order of recent years’ epic struggles over Obamacare, gay marriage, and voting rights. But nonetheless, we can draw some lessons from the justices’ recent work.
First, the Court can function quite well with only eight members, as it did for most of the term. The Senate’s failure in 2016 to act on the nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death had led President Obama to warn that the existence of “a functioning judiciary” was at stake. Other pundits predicted that the Court would be “prone to ideological deadlocks.” But instead of 4-4 ties, the Court produced a raft of unanimous opinions—in fact, the highest percentage of unanimous opinions (59 percent) since the 2013–2014 term.
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