How Supreme Court ties could impact Alabama, including on big issues like abortion rights

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - It feels like you can see Washington churn from Huntsville.

"I think Obama is probably going to nominate somebody in pretty short order," Attorney Jake Watson says, "And then there's probably going to be a big fight in the Senate, whether or not that person will be confirmed."

So from the White House to the Senate chambers, Watson assesses, "There's going to be a lot of tension on the periphery of the court."

The court itself still has business to conduct though. They've got arguments in 29 cases already scheduled for argument in February and March.

Even with one chair now empty, Watson says, "I imagine they'll proceed as usual."

As usual as possible.

The court often relies on a deciding vote, having four on each side of a case with a swing vote in the middle, traditionally Justice Anthony Kennedy. Now one of the solid conservative voices of the court has passed, so in many cases, you might expect a 4-4 tie would be the best case scenario on the conservative side of issues.

Experts don't entirely agree if those cases would default to an affirmation of lower court rulings, or if they would be re-argued in front of the Supreme Court once it returned to full strength.

Alabama often ties itself to those conservative causes, submitting briefs on issues ranging from gay marriage last year to a big case on abortion rights this year.

"It could be," Watson notes, "That Alabama has a vested interest in the outcome of a certain issue."

One that stands out: Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.

The case surrounds regulations for clinics offering abortions similar to the ones that caused the Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives to close its downtown office in Huntsville.

Alabama, along with other states, filed a brief defending the state of Texas, because they had imposed similar restrictions.

Now typically, the court would go one way or another, favoring the state or the provider 5-4, but with one chair now empty, the court can tie.

Some experts say that affirms the district court decision, but that decisions is incredibly specific to the case, since it's not meant to set sweeping precedent the way a Supreme Court ruling would.

It's hard to know how that would affect the issue back home in Alabama.

And it's also possible that the court could tie, and decide to re-hear arguments at a later time.

All of which would leave Alabama in legal limbo.

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