WASHINGTON — Justice Antonin Scalia’s death will complicate the work of the Supreme Court’s eight remaining justices for the rest of the court’s term, probably change the outcomes of some major cases and, for the most part, amplify the power of its four-member liberal wing.

It takes five votes to accomplish most things at the Supreme Court, and until Saturday, that meant Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was in control when the court’s four-member liberal and conservative blocs lined up against each other. But with three remaining conservatives, only the liberal side can command a majority if it attracts Justice Kennedy’s vote. And if it does not, the result is a 4-to-4 deadlock.

If that happens, the court can automatically affirm the decision under review without giving reasons and without setting a Supreme Court precedent. Or it can set the case down for re-argument in the term that starts in October in the hope that it will be decided by a full court.

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“It has been an extraordinarily long time since the Supreme Court has been forced to deal with a departure that occurs in the middle of the term, as the court does here with Justice Scalia’s death,” said Justin Driver, a law professor at the University of Chicago. “This event almost certainly throws many cases that had been tentatively decided by 5-4 margins into grave doubt, and will likely require the justices to reassess many opinions.”


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