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Scalia's death sends shock waves through court systems

Alex Wong/Getty Images

In a United States Supreme Court grappling with major issues, like abortion, re-apportionment and high education affirmative action, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia changes things drastically.

UB Law School Interim Dean James Gardner says says Scalia has been one of the five justices who have controlled major decisions in recent years. Now, that may often be four-to-four.

"The legal effect of a 4-4 split is that it simply affirms the lower court decision, meaning that the briefing and argument have been and the Supreme Court procedures have been more or less a waste of everyone's time," Gardner said.

Under court rules, if Scalia was the deciding vote on a case with a result which hasn't been announced yet that decision isn't announced. The court may decide to re-argue a case when back to the full nine justices or as Gardner says, rely on the lower court decisions and there may be different decisions in different federal appeals courts.