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The Events That Mattered Most in the Supreme Court This Term

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 30, 2016 12:05 PM

The Supreme Court's October 2015 Term, which ended this week, was not like many others. Sure, there were the high-profile, landmark cases, disputes over civil rights, affirmative action, abortion. But there were also events, inside and outside the Court, that sometimes seemed to overshadow the Supreme Court's legal work.

Here's a quick look back at the controversies, and not the cases, that mattered most this term.

1. Justice Antonin Scalia Dies

It's hard to overestimate Justice Scalia's impact on the Supreme Court. For nearly 30 years, he reshaped how the courts, lawyers, and the public looked at the law. His caustic, creative dissents were occasionally works of art, and his friendships with his fellow justices showed that disagreements on the bench need not extend into one's personal life.

His unexpected death in February threw off the balance of the Court, reducing its conservative wing and leaving it understaffed for the remainder of the term -- and likely beyond.

2. President Obama Nominates Garland; Republicans Say "No Thanks"

One month after Justice Scalia's death, President Obama nominated D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Garland is a bit of a surprise -- older, whiter, and more centrist than many expected. But he is also a widely respected jurist, one that (the thinking went) could garner support from both Democrats and Republicans.

That plan didn't exactly work out. Almost immediately after Justice Scalia's passing was announced, Senate Republicans vowed to prevent his replacement until after the November elections. So far, they haven't shown any signs of budging.

3. The Supreme Court's First 4-4 Split of the Term

With an eight-justice Court, it was bound to happen. And it happened sooner, rather than later. In March, a deadlocked Supreme Court released its first split decision. The case, which involved marital discrimination in lending, wasn't one of the most important of the term -- but it did signal things to come. As the term marched on, the Court released more and more split decisions, on high-profile cases involving public unions and immigration, plus the occasional non-decision designed to avoid a split.

4. Justice Thomas Breaks His Vow of Silence

For ten years, Justice Thomas went without asking a single question during oral arguments. Not one! Then, a few weeks after Justice Scalia's passing, in arguments over firearms restricts for domestic abusers, he casually began peppering a lawyer with questions about the Second Amendment.

At the time, we predicted that the world was ending. It hasn't yet, but the End of Days can take a while to play out.


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