WASHINGTON — The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia casts a cloud of uncertainty over a court term filled with some of the most controversial issues facing the nation: abortion, affirmative action, the rights of religious objectors to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and President Barack Obama's powers on immigration and deportation.

An eight-member court could split on all of those issues. If the court ties in deciding a case, the decision of the appeals court remains in place, without setting a nationwide precedent.

Pending a new justice, the court now has three consistent conservatives, four liberals, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the court's swing vote. Scalia, who died this weekend in Texas, was an outspoken conservative.

Some of the most prominent cases on the current docket that could be affected by Scalia's absence:

United States v. Texas. The Supreme Court is also considering whether Obama exceeded his powers in trying to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. The order protects more than 4 million people who are parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents and allows them to "come out from the shadows" to work legally, as Obama put it when announcing the program in November 2014.


Politicians, including in Nebraska and Iowa's delegations, reflect on Scalia's legacy.

A look at the jurist's influential decisions.

Some names that might be on the president's short list.

The executive action was put on hold by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. A split court would uphold that decision and keep Obama from implementing it before he leaves office next January.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The Supreme Court in July agreed to consider again whether race-conscious college admission plans are constitutional. Two years ago the court voted 7-1 to send the University of Texas at Austin's plan back for further judicial review and told the lower court to apply the kind of rigorous evaluation that must accompany any government action that considers race.

That ruling was largely seen as a punt on the part of a deeply divided court: The ruling stopped short of forbidding the consideration of race, significantly altering the court's prescription of how such programs should operate, or even passing judgment on the UT program at issue.

Upon reconsideration, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit once again upheld the program.

Zubik v. Burwell. Also before the court is another challenge to the Affordable Care Act, this time over whether religiously affiliated organizations such as universities, hospitals and charities can be free from playing any role in providing their employees with contraceptive coverage.

The case pits questions of religious liberty against a woman's right to equal health care access, and it will be the fourth time the court has considered some aspect of Obamacare.

Most appeals courts that have decided the controversy found in favor of the Obama administration. But one did not. Presumably a split court would mean the law is interpreted differently depending on the region of the country.

Whole Woman's Health v. Cole. The Supreme Court next month is set to hear its most consequential abortion case in nearly a quarter century, agreeing to determine how far states may go in regulating the procedure without violating a woman's constitutional rights.

The case from Texas will affect women across the nation. Numerous states have enacted restrictions that lawmakers say protect a woman's health but that abortion providers contend are a pretext for making it difficult to obtain an abortion, or even making it unavailable within a state.

Abortion providers say full implementation of the Texas law passed in 2013 would reduce from 42 to 10 the number of clinics in the nation's second-largest state.

Sunday's developments

WASHINGTON — The body of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was being flown late Sunday to Virginia from El Paso, Texas, after it was determined that he died of natural causes and an autopsy was not necessary. Chris Lujan, a manager for Sunset Funeral Homes, said Scalia's family didn't think a private autopsy was needed.

One report, by WFAA-TV in Dallas, said the death certificate would show that the cause of the death was a heart attack. Scalia was found dead in his room at a West Texas resort ranch Saturday morning.

President Barack Obama says he plans to nominate a successor to Scalia, which would set up a fight with the Republican-controlled Senate. Most GOP presidential candidates said any prospective Obama nominee shouldn't get a vote. The exception: Jeb Bush told CNN that it's "really not important to me" whether there's a vote before Obama leaves office next January.— The Associated Press

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