Supreme Court deadlocked for first time since Scalia's death

Supreme Court deadlocked for first time since Scalia's death

The Supreme Court issued a deadlocked ruling Tuesday, its first since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The court tied 4-4 in a case involving whether a pair of wives should be held financially responsible for the failure of their husbands’ real estate endeavor.

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Tuesday’s tie was the first since Scalia’s sudden death in February left the high court with eight justices. Democrats have been warning of such a scenario as they argue that the Senate needs to act quickly on a Scalia replacement to avoid a string of ties.

The outcome of Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore leaves in place a lower court ruling that affirmed that the bank did not discriminate against the women.

But it also means the Supreme Court did not resolve pair of conflicting lower court rulings on the matter. A decision from the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled directly on this case, conflicted with a prior ruling from the 6th Circuit on a similar issue.

At question in the case is what legal protections are available to Valerie Hawkins and Janice Patterson, who were required by the bank to sign on as guarantors on a loan application submitted by their husbands. When the men's business failed to make loan payments, the bank declared the loans in default and demanded payment from all four.

Hawkins and Patterson argued that such a demand constituted discrimination because of marital status, which is prohibited under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which bars lending discrimination across a host of factors. But the bank contended that the two were not considered loan “applicants” under that law since they simply had to sign on as spouses to the loan seekers, leaving the courts to settle the dispute.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in October, when Scalia reportedly sounded skeptical about the wives’ claim for legal protection as “applicants.”

But in a one-sentence ruling issued Tuesday, the Supreme Court simply said it affirmed the lower court ruling by failing to reach one of its own.

As Democrats continue to mount pressure, Senate Republicans have insisted that they will not take up a Supreme Court nominee from President Obama until after the fall elections.

Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, earlier this month. Nearly all Republicans have insisted they will not consider the pick, although a handful of moderates and those in close reelection races have said they would be willing to meet with him.