Quick Note: 5-4 Decisions and Equally Divided Votes Since 1946

This Term was nothing if not unique.  The Justices had to sort through a majority of the decisions with one Justice missing.  With a Court of eight, the Justices could not possibly come to 5-4 decisions.  The Supreme Court was officially set at the size of nine members in 1869 and Congress has not changed this number since that time.  This Term in the Supreme Court there were zero 5-4 split decisions, including the cases where Justice Scalia voted.  Some have speculated that this could be a unique occurrence; specifically a Term with nine Justices and no 5-4 votes.

The Table below charts the number of 5-4 votes per Term since 1946 (data provided by the Supreme Court Database)

Term 5-4 Decisions
1946 32
1947 31
1948 31
1949 2
1950 16
1951 12
1952 8
1953 11
1954 1
1955 15
1956 12
1957 30
1958 25
1959 25
1960 28
1961 6
1962 18
1963 13
1964 6
1965 13
1966 28
1967 1
1968 4
1969 0
1970 30
1971 23
1972 28
1973 31
1974 18
1975 15
1976 20
1977 19
1978 26
1979 29
1980 17
1981 38
1982 34
1983 29
1984 22
1985 37
1986 42
1987 18
1988 40
1989 43
1990 23
1991 14
1992 20
1993 13
1994 19
1995 17
1996 21
1997 17
1998 15
1999 23
2000 28
2001 22
2002 15
2003 28
2004 20
2005 14
2006 28
2007 12
2008 28
2009 13
2010 19
2011 19
2012 21
2013 11
2014 25
2015 0
Total 1412

As you can see, the 1969 Term was the only other in recent history with zero 5-4 vote splits.  

Looked at another way, this table provides the ten Terms with the fewest 5-4 decisions

Term 5-4 Decisions
1969 0
2015 0
1954 1
1967 1
1949 2
1968 4
1961 6
1964 6
1952 8
1953 11

The correspondingly phenomena this Term was the number of equally divided votes.  The table below shows the number of cases per term with equally divided votes since 1946.

Term Equally Divided Votes
1946 1
1947 1
1948 5
1949 1
1950 4
1951 5
1952 6
1953 1
1954 3
1955 2
1956 1
1957 3
1958 5
1959 2
1960 2
1961 1
1962 4
1963 2
1964 1
1965 1
1966 1
1967 7
1968 1
1969 2
1970 6
1971 2
1972 4
1973 0
1974 1
1975 0
1976 2
1977 2
1978 3
1979 0
1980 4
1981 3
1982 0
1983 2
1984 8
1985 1
1986 2
1987 4
1988 3
1989 1
1990 2
1991 0
1992 0
1993 1
1994 0
1995 1
1996 0
1997 0
1998 1
1999 1
2000 0
2001 0
2002 1
2003 0
2004 0
2005 0
2006 0
2007 2
2008 0
2009 0
2010 2
2011 0
2012 0
2013 0
2014 0
2015 5

As you can see, this Term had the most equally divided votes since 1984 (which had the most for this entire time span) and is tied for the fifth most equally divided votes since 1946 (with 1948, 1951, and 1958).

Hopefully this answers a few questions for those interested in the historic significance of the decision types and vote breakdowns this Term.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Howard says:

    The 1969 term also had a vacant seat.

    Like

    1. Adam Feldman says:

      True. Only a handful of decisions with nine sitting Justices as well.

      Like

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