Quick Note: 5-4 Decisions and Equally Divided Votes Since 1946

This Term was nothing if not unique.  The Justices had to sort through a majority of the decisions with one Justice missing.  With a Court of eight, the Justices could not possibly come to 5-4 decisions.  The Supreme Court was officially set at the size of nine members in 1869 and Congress has not changed this number since that time.  This Term in the Supreme Court there were zero 5-4 split decisions, including the cases where Justice Scalia voted.  Some have speculated that this could be a unique occurrence; specifically a Term with nine Justices and no 5-4 votes.

The Table below charts the number of 5-4 votes per Term since 1946 (data provided by the Supreme Court Database)

Term5-4 Decisions
194632
194731
194831
19492
195016
195112
19528
195311
19541
195515
195612
195730
195825
195925
196028
19616
196218
196313
19646
196513
196628
19671
19684
19690
197030
197123
197228
197331
197418
197515
197620
197719
197826
197929
198017
198138
198234
198329
198422
198537
198642
198718
198840
198943
199023
199114
199220
199313
199419
199517
199621
199717
199815
199923
200028
200122
200215
200328
200420
200514
200628
200712
200828
200913
201019
201119
201221
201311
201425
20150
Total1412

As you can see, the 1969 Term was the only other in recent history with zero 5-4 vote splits.  

Looked at another way, this table provides the ten Terms with the fewest 5-4 decisions

Term5-4 Decisions
19690
20150
19541
19671
19492
19684
19616
19646
19528
195311

The correspondingly phenomena this Term was the number of equally divided votes.  The table below shows the number of cases per term with equally divided votes since 1946.

TermEqually Divided Votes
19461
19471
19485
19491
19504
19515
19526
19531
19543
19552
19561
19573
19585
19592
19602
19611
19624
19632
19641
19651
19661
19677
19681
19692
19706
19712
19724
19730
19741
19750
19762
19772
19783
19790
19804
19813
19820
19832
19848
19851
19862
19874
19883
19891
19902
19910
19920
19931
19940
19951
19960
19970
19981
19991
20000
20010
20021
20030
20040
20050
20060
20072
20080
20090
20102
20110
20120
20130
20140
20155

As you can see, this Term had the most equally divided votes since 1984 (which had the most for this entire time span) and is tied for the fifth most equally divided votes since 1946 (with 1948, 1951, and 1958).

Hopefully this answers a few questions for those interested in the historic significance of the decision types and vote breakdowns this Term.

0 Comments Add yours

  1. Howard says:

    The 1969 term also had a vacant seat.

    1. True. Only a handful of decisions with nine sitting Justices as well.

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