With the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia comes a wave of uncertainty about a number of issues from abortion rights to immigration to affirmative action -- all subjects of cases the Supreme Court will rule on in its 2016 session.
Among the most contentious is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that could challenge mandatory membership in unions and unions’ rights to collect mandatory dues.
"If there's not nine justices, it's going to be hard to break ties and establish the law of the land in some of the most controversial issues,” said UC Davis Law School’s Dean Kevin R. Johnson, a prominent Supreme Court scholar.
Johnson says Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is a case many believed would end in a 5-4 ruling against unions, with Scalia being one of the five.
"Scalia made his views known, and, generally speaking, in cases involving unions and others, Justice Scalia sided with the others,” Johnson said.
Now, he says, the union's case has new life.
"We protect teachers and faculty,” said Jeff Frietas, who is a member of another union, the California Federation of Teachers. He says union members now believe that a 4-4 deadlock among Supreme Court justices is likely if Scalia’s replacement is not appointed come summer.
If a 4-4 split ruling is issued, a lower court's ruling in favor of unions would stand.
"It's a 4-4, we assume, decision. It's all up in the air,” said Frietas.
A decision either way on this issue will set likely set the course for union membership nationwide.
With the other important issues the court will soon take up, Johnson says this sudden change on the bench could send ripples through this country's history as we know it.