On the theory that "timing is everything," Justin Pidot's (Denver) recent paper, Tie Votes in the Supreme Court, warrants attention in light of Associate Justice Scalia's death and the prospect of an 8-member Court for some period of time. Pidot's paper descriptively analyzes the 164 instances between 1925 and 2015 in which the a tie vote emerged from the Court and advances a change to existing Court policy. An excerpted abstract follows.
"This Article constitutes the first detailed empirical analysis of whether the Supreme Court’s current approach to tie votes makes sense, presenting an original study of the 164 instances in which a tie vote occurred between 1925 and 2015. Those data reveal two important trends, both of which suggest the current approach is at best unnecessary. First, where a case ends in a tie, the issue involved is either presented to the Supreme Court again in relatively short order or turns out to be of little significance. Second, only 1 of the 164 cases would today fall within the Supreme Court’s limited mandatory jurisdiction. The remainder would arrive at the Court on a writ of certiorari, a docket that is entirely discretionary.
Instead of affirming by equal division, the Supreme Court should utilize an alternate and equally well-established procedure to dismiss cases as improvidently granted. At a time when Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court at unprecedented levels, dismissing rather than formally announcing a tie to terminate deadlocked cases better protects the public perception of the Court’s legitimacy. Moreover, dismissal would reduce the potential for justices to write opinions that take public positions on issues that have not yet been resolved. Finally, as a matter of cognitive psychology, justices may feel internal pressure to remain consistent with a position once staked out in a vote that resolves a case. Dismissing, rather than affirming by an equally divided court, could alleviate that psychological pressures, allowing the justices to be more fair-minded when approaching cases in the future."