What Justice Scalia's death could mean for healthcare: 7 things to know

The death of 79-year-old Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Saturday could muddle several important healthcare cases in the high court.

Here are seven things to know about how Justice Scalia's death could alter healthcare.

1. Without the sharp-tongued, conservative Justice Scalia, the court is lopsided in favor of the liberal opinion. Eight justices remain, with four acting as liberal members, and three remaining in its conservative wing. Justice Anthony Kennedy is typically the swing vote, according to The New York Times. In his absence, the liberal justices need only to win the vote of Justice Kennedy to secure a win. The conservatives would have to attract Justice Kennedy and a liberal leaning justice.

2. In the instance of a 4-to-4 tie vote, no affirmative action can be taken. A deadlock vote defaults to the lower court's decision and only impacts the parties involved, according to The New York Times. The court does not issue a national decision, and the outcome is as if the Court had never reviewed the case. In the case of a tie, the Supreme Court can also elect to re-argue the case later, when it may have another judge appointed.

3. President Barack Obama said he will select a nominee in the next few weeks. The New York Times highlighted six likely contenders for President Obama's nominee, which could be solidified by the Senate, though Republicans have said they would not act on any of his nominations. This would make President Obama's nomination at best a top contender after the election.

4. In the months until a new justice is selected, it could alter several cases directly and indirectly related to healthcare. These cases include an abortion decision in Whole Women's Health v. Cole, a contraceptive requirement under the ACA in Zubik v. Burwell, and a case concerning public unions in Friedrichs v. California Teacher's Association.

5. In Whole Women's Health v. Cole, the court would hear its first major abortion case in nine years.The case challenges a Texas law that would reduce the number of abortion clinics to 10 statewide, down from about 40. If the court votes 4-to-4 and does not decide to re-argue the case, it would uphold the lower court ruling, leaving just 10 abortion clinics in the state.

6. Zubik v. Burwell challenges a contraception mandate under the ACA for those who have religious objections. The case looks at whether religiously-affiliated organizations should have to fill out exemption forms for objecting to the contraception mandate. A Third Circuit ruling in April found no substantial burden from having to file an exemption form, though this decision was temporarily blocked by the Supreme Court. If the votes tied in this case, it would affirm several appeals court decisions, according to The New York Times.

7. Friedrichs v. California Teacher's Association would decide if non-union public employees should have to pay "agency" or "fair share" fees for collective bargaining costs of public unions. The current appeals court decision favors the unions. With one less conservative judge, this decision will likely be upheld. If the justices deadlock 4-to-4, the unions win by default, unless the case is re-argued, according to The New York Times.

 

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