US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia listens as US President George W. Bush speaks at the the Federalist Society's 25th Anniversary Gala Dinner at Union Station in Washington, DC 15 November 2007. AFP PHOTO/SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia listens as US President George W. Bush speaks at the the Federalist Society's 25th Anniversary Gala Dinner at Union Station in Washington, DC 15 November 2007. AFP PHOTO/SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:25
What happens to cases argued in front of Justice Scalia?
obama scalia replacement options supreme court brown dnt tsr_00004310.jpg
Getty Images
obama scalia replacement options supreme court brown dnt tsr_00004310.jpg
Now playing
01:56
Obama's options to replace Justice Antonin Scalia
mcconnell cornyn wont meet with obama supreme court nominee sot_00001614.jpg
mcconnell cornyn wont meet with obama supreme court nominee sot_00001614.jpg
Now playing
00:50
Senate GOP: We will not meet with Obama's nominee (2016)
US President Barack Obama speaks to the media during a bi-lateral meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in the Oval Office at the White House February 24, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
US President Barack Obama speaks to the media during a bi-lateral meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in the Oval Office at the White House February 24, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
01:35
Obama responds to GOP's plans to block SCOTUS nominee
The Courtroom of the Supreme Court showing Associate Justice Antonin Scalia's Bench Chair and the Bench in front of his seat draped in black following his death on February 13, 2016.
Supreme Court of the United States
The Courtroom of the Supreme Court showing Associate Justice Antonin Scalia's Bench Chair and the Bench in front of his seat draped in black following his death on February 13, 2016.
Now playing
01:28
Poll: Obama should nominate new justice
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 14:  An American flag flies at half mast following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the U.S. Supreme Court, February 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was at a Texas Ranch Saturday morning when he died at the age of 79. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 14: An American flag flies at half mast following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the U.S. Supreme Court, February 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was at a Texas Ranch Saturday morning when he died at the age of 79. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:47
Sources: White House vetting Jane Kelly for Supreme Court
US President Barack Obama speaks to the media during a bi-lateral meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in the Oval Office at the White House February 24, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
US President Barack Obama speaks to the media during a bi-lateral meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in the Oval Office at the White House February 24, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
03:26
Source: Obama vetting GOP governor as potential nominee
supreme court justice thomas speaks origwx bw_00000000.jpg
supreme court justice thomas speaks origwx bw_00000000.jpg
Now playing
01:58
Hear Justice Thomas break his ten year silence (2016)
Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia (L) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (R) wait for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia (L) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (R) wait for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Now playing
02:00
The Supreme Court's odd couple
SCOTUS Scalia senate hearing GOP newday_00012524.jpg
CSPAN
SCOTUS Scalia senate hearing GOP newday_00012524.jpg
Now playing
01:58
Senators break ranks over SCOTUS hearing
pool
Now playing
01:57
Obama joins crowd paying respect to Antonin Scalia
Justice Scalia funeral basilica _00003619.jpg
CNN
Justice Scalia funeral basilica _00003619.jpg
Now playing
01:15
Thousands attend Justice Scalia's funeral
384802 07: (FILE PHOTO) This undated file photo shows Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC. (Photo by Liaison)
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
384802 07: (FILE PHOTO) This undated file photo shows Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC. (Photo by Liaison)
Now playing
04:56
Antonin Scalia known for sharp mind and brash demeanor
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17:  Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The Kalb Report is a discussion of media ethics and responsibility at the National Press Club held each month. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The Kalb Report is a discussion of media ethics and responsibility at the National Press Club held each month. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:58
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dead at 79
US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks during the American Bar Association (ABA) 59th annual "Antitrust Law Spring" meeting in Washington, DC, on March 31, 2011. AFP Photo/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks during the American Bar Association (ABA) 59th annual "Antitrust Law Spring" meeting in Washington, DC, on March 31, 2011. AFP Photo/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:05
Obama: Antonin Scalia 'a larger than life presence'
Paul Sancya/AP and Alex Wong/Getty Images
Now playing
00:44
Do GOP rivals agree with Obama on Scalia replacement?
Justices of the US Supreme Court sit for their official group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2017. 
Seated (L-R): Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice of the US John G. Roberts, Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer. Standing (L-R): Associate Justices Elena Kagan, Samuel Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Justices of the US Supreme Court sit for their official group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2017. Seated (L-R): Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice of the US John G. Roberts, Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer. Standing (L-R): Associate Justices Elena Kagan, Samuel Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:16
How are Supreme Court justices chosen?
David Axelrod Justice Scalia Kagan newday_00005626.jpg
CNN
David Axelrod Justice Scalia Kagan newday_00005626.jpg
Now playing
00:59
Axelrod: Scalia lobbied for friend to make bench
Youtube/ American Constitution Society
Now playing
02:00
2007: Democrat vows to block Bush Supreme Court nominee
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits to be introduced to speak on October 2, 2012, in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits to be introduced to speak on October 2, 2012, in Washington, D.C.
Now playing
02:17
The fight for Justice Scalia's replacement is on
Marco Rubio Antonin Scalia Supreme Court nomination sotu_00002014.jpg
Marco Rubio Antonin Scalia Supreme Court nomination sotu_00002014.jpg
Now playing
01:41
Rubio: Next President should appoint Scalia replacement
obama sessions supreme court appointment_00002908.jpg
obama sessions supreme court appointment_00002908.jpg
Now playing
00:48
Senator vows opposition to Obama's Scalia successor
scalia on death penalty torture piers intv_00022630.jpg
scalia on death penalty torture piers intv_00022630.jpg
Now playing
03:53
2012: Justice Antonin Scalia on death penalty, torture
scalia burning flag piers intv_00003907.jpg
scalia burning flag piers intv_00003907.jpg
Now playing
01:24
Antonin Scalia: Flag burning 'a form of expression'
scalia roe v wade piers intv_00030419.jpg
scalia roe v wade piers intv_00030419.jpg
Now playing
04:07
2012: Scalia: Constitution says nothing about abortion
Now playing
02:25
Ginsburg and Scalia's wild adventures
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Now playing
01:15
Supreme Court Justice makes controversial comments
CNN
Now playing
00:41
Who would Trump put on the court? (February 2016)
SOTU Tapper: State of the Cartoonion: Scalia burns_00010012.jpg
SOTU Tapper: State of the Cartoonion: Scalia burns_00010012.jpg
Now playing
01:22
2015: Scalia's carefully crafted verbal burns

Story highlights

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia complicates several high-profile cases set to be heard this term

If the court is equally divided in a case, ruling 4-4, it means the lower court opinion stands and there is no precedent set by the Supreme Court

Washington CNN —  

This Supreme Court term was already set to be a blockbuster and consequential. Justices are considering a major challenge to public sector unions, a race-conscious admissions plan at the University of Texas, the first big abortion case since 2007, challenges to voting rights, the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate and a challenge to President Barack Obama’s immigration actions.

Although in some of the cases, the late Justice Antonin Scalia probably indicated to his colleagues in conference which way he was going to vote, those preliminary votes aren’t binding and are now void.

Scalia’s sudden death over the weekend at a Texas desert resort means the court is facing a new challenge: the loss of its main conservative voice.

“The entire tenor of this term has now changed,” said Stephen Vladeck a CNN contributor and a law professor at American University Washington College of Law. “The court can try to go ahead, but on cases where they are split 4-4 , their only options are to leave the lower court decision intact or to hold the case over until Justice Scalia’s replacement is confirmed.”

If the court is equally divided in a case, ruling 4-4, it means the lower court opinion stands and there is no precedent set by the Supreme Court.

That could have a major impact this term, for example, in the labor union case the court is deciding. At issue there is whether non members of a public sector union can be compelled to pay fees for collective bargaining.

If the court were to rule with the challengers it could severely weaken labor coffers at a time when unions in general are in decline.

A lower court ruled in favor of the unions. After oral arguments, court watchers believed that the Court might be poised to reverse that decision. It was expected that Justice Anthony Kennedy might join the conservatives in a 5-4 vote.

With Scalia’s death, that case might well now turn out to be 4-4. That means the lower court decision that ruled in favor of the unions would stand.

Abortion

On abortion, next month, justices will hear a case challenging parts of a Texas abortion law that requires that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and mandates that clinics upgrade their facilities to hospital-like standards.

Abortion rights supporters say the law is one of the strictest in the nation and that if the Supreme Court agrees with a lower court’s decision and allows two provisions of the law to go into effect, the number of available clinics in the state is expected to fall to about 10.

The lower court allowed the Texas law to remain. Kennedy will be key here. If he votes with the liberals, it’s likely a 5-3 decision to overturn. If he votes with the conservatives it could be 4-4 which would mean the Texas law could stand.

One person, one vote

Scalia’s death might also impact a voting redistricting case challenging the “one person, one vote” doctrine in a dispute that could change the way that states draw their legislative lines. In that case the challengers prevailed in the lower court.

The principle dating back to 1960s is that state legislative districts must be drawn so they are equal in population. But justices never explicitly answered whether the doctrine applies to the general population or the voting population.

Civil rights groups are watching the case carefully, fearful that if the court rules with the plaintiffs, it could potentially shift power from urban areas – districts that tend to include a higher percentage of individuals not eligible to vote such as non-citizens, released felons and children – to rural areas that are more likely to favor Republicans.

Immigration and Obamacare

On immigration, the court will consider whether President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration should survive.

Texas and 25 other states are challenging the programs that would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to apply for programs that could make them eligible for work authorization and some associated benefits. Lower courts have so far sided with Texas and temporarily frozen the programs from going into effect. The 8-person court means the administration would need to turn Kennedy or Chief Justice John Roberts to win.

The most complicated case could be the lawsuit challenging the Obamacare contraception mandate.

This case is a challenge from religious nonprofit groups, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, to requirement that demands group health plans provide a full range of contraceptive coverage to women at no cost. The issue here is that unlike the other cases, this case came out of multiple circuits that didn’t all rule the same way.

A 4-4 decision wouldn’t be decisive at all, making this a likely candidate for the court to hold over.

In the coming weeks, the court could signal that it was going to “hold over” some cases that might be 4-4 but it would be more likely the justices would do that if they thought there would be a new justice confirmed in the short term.