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In the Supreme Court, it's traditional for new justices to sit out of decisions in cases that were argued before they took the bench. That means if, for example, a Trump-nominated justice were to join the court on February 1st, they would not take part in decisions in cases where oral arguments were held earlier in the term.

But that is just tradition. There are no hard-and-fast rules keeping justices from participating in decisions when they weren't part of oral arguments.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case that involves the strange, interesting intersection of free speech rights and, well, credit cards surcharges. New York, along with several other states, prohibits merchants from charging costumers a surcharge for using credit cards. But New York also allows merchants to offer discounts for paying in cash. So, if your groceries cost $20, the store cannot charge you $2 more for paying with a Visa. But they can give you a $2 discount for paying with hard cash.

Semantics, right? Yes, according to merchants challenging the law, who argue that such laws unconstitutionally restrict the speech they can use when describing prices.

With President-elect Trump's inauguration quick approaching, we could soon have a new nominee to the Supreme Court, almost a year after Justice Scalia's death and after nearly 300 days of Senate Republicans refusing to consider Merrick Garland's nomination. The Supreme Court would finally be back to a full set of justices, its frequent deadlocked non-decisions a thing of the past.

Or not. As Trump narrows down his SCOTUS list, some are suggesting that Democrats should block any or all of Trump's Supreme Court nominees.

Chief Justice Roberts recused himself from a patent case yesterday, long after one might expect. The belated withdrawal came almost a month after the Court heard oral arguments in the case, Life Technologies v. Promega, following the tardy discovery that Roberts owned stock in Life Technologies' parent company.

This isn't the first failed conflict check in recent Supreme Court history. It's not even the first involving the chief justice.

The past year was really something else. 2016 saw the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the end of Merrick Garland's Supreme Court dreams, the death of David Bowie. Not even Mariah Carey made it out unscathed.

But, before we bid the year a final adieu (or good riddance), it's worth looking back at the Supreme Court's most important decisions. For, throughout all of 2016's ups and downs, the Court continued to shape American law, government, and politics, with important rulings in the areas of criminal law, civil rights, immigration, and more. Here are our top six.

2016 was not a typical year for the Supreme Court. The passing of Justice Antonin Scalia early in the year upended normal Supreme Court practice, as his vacated seat became part of an unprecedented struggle over naming a replacement justice, leaving the Court short-staffed and deadlock-prone.

The fact that Justice Thomas spoke from the bench shortly after Justice Scalia's death was just another sign that the world had been turned upside down. Throw in an almost unheard of public spat between a sitting justice and a presidential candidate, and you have one of the more bizarre years in the Supreme Court's history. And somewhere in there, some cases were decided, too. Here's a quick look back on the strange scene that was the Supreme Court in 2016.

It just wasn't meant to be for D.C Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland and the Supreme Court. On Monday, 278 days after Garland was first nominated to the Court by President Obama, Chief Justice Roberts rejected a long-shot attempt to force the Senate to consider Garland for the bench. The same day, the D.C. Circuit put Garland back on its schedule, announcing that he'd hear his first circuit oral arguments in more than ten months.

Garland's Supreme Court dreams have been snuffed.

If you rush, you can probably still order a present for that aunt or cousin you forgot about and have it arrive on time for the holidays. (You have 'til Friday.) That last-minute order will be online, of course. You wouldn't be alone. This holiday season, online retailers are expecting to see double-digit growth in internet sales.

Many of those sales won't be taxed by the states. Some states are trying to change that, adopting laws meant to recover sales tax that would otherwise be paid by shoppers at brick-and-mortar stores. Those laws could become more common now, after the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to an internet sales tax law in Colorado.

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the insider trading conviction of a Chicago man who had traded based on inside tips from relatives. The man, Bassam Salman, argued that those who tipped him off to insider information must have gained some pecuniary benefit from the tip in order for him to be convicted of securities fraud, echoing a position recently adopted by the Second Circuit.

But the Supreme Court easily rejected that logic, reaffirming the inference of a benefit whenever insider information is given to friends and family -- settling a circuit split and potentially clearing the way for increased insider-trading prosecutions.

The Supreme Court tossed out two class action challenges brought by Visa yesterday, less than a month before the financial services company was scheduled to make oral arguments.

The reason? Visa had asked the Court to address one question in their petition for cert, but pursued a different argument in their merits briefing. The Supreme Court, unamused by Visa's shifting legal strategy, decided that Visa won't have a chance to make any of its legal arguments, dismissing the case as improvidently granted.