With now eight U.S. Supreme Court justices on the bench after the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the rare prospect of tie 4-4 decisions emerges for the High Court's current term.
In the event of a deadlocked decision, the lower court's ruling stands. In such situations, the U.S. Supreme Court issues what are called per curiam decisions.
Those orders are typically brief, affirm the lower court's ruling, and hold no legal precedent.
Virginia now has two high profile cases awaiting oral arguments, but only one may be impacted by the possibility of a split decision.
The controversial congressional redistricting case, Wittman v. Personhuballah, may have its fate already suggested by Chief Justice John Roberts. But the corruption case against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell holds less clarity.
On Feb. 1, Roberts refused to issue a stay in Wittman, a move that would have delayed new congressional borders in Virginia from taking effect.
The boundaries are in dispute after federal judges ruled state lawmakers packed too many African-American voters into Virginia's 3rd Congressional District.
The judges said the old map was racially gerrymandered, diminishing African-American representation in other parts of the Commonwealth.
In an essay from one of the nation’s leading experts on election law, Rick Hasen wrote the refusal to grant a stay, even before Scalia's death, signaled a likely loss for the Republican petitioners.
“I think this means the Court is somewhat unlikely to reverse the finding of the lower court that the Virginia redistricting constituted an unconstitutional racial gerrymander," Hasen wrote.
"Likelihood of success is one of the factors in granting a stay."
The case of McDonnell v. United States also awaits oral arguments, with a date in April still yet to be determined.
The main constitutional question addresses what constitutes “official actions” under controlling federal fraud statutes.
The case would require each justice to weigh significant ideological considerations, with the outcome far from clear before Scalia's death.
If the eventual decision results in deadlock, McDonnell would be ordered to begin his two-year prison sentence.
However, former Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell's Supreme Court appeal could be heard by the High Court when Scalia's vacancy is filled.
Assuming a nomination process is arduous and eight justices hear the former governor's appeal, adding a ninth justice by 2017 could significantly change the dynamic of Mrs. McDonnell's legal approach.
The former first lady's appeal is currently on hold, pending the result of her husband's case.