The American flag flies at half mast after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Feb.13, 2016.
Drew Angerer—Getty Images
By Maya Rhodan
February 14, 2016

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia at age 79 raises a lot of questions, including how decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court go forward as the process to nominate his successor begins. Without nine justices, there is the potential for a 4-4 tie.

Supreme Court ties aren’t unprecedented; justices have recused themselves from the bench for various reasons throughout history. When it happens, the lower court ruling stands and no precedent is set.

In the paper “Ties in the Supreme Court of the United States,” published in the William & Mary Law Review, Edward Hartnett writes:

TIME’s Massimo Calabresi has explained how the conservative justice’s death will impact the court’s pending cases.

Write to Maya Rhodan at maya.rhodan@time.com.

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