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Supreme Court Begins Term Monday, Short One Justice

FILE - The Supreme Court building is seen in Washington.
FILE - The Supreme Court building is seen in Washington.

The U.S. Supreme Court will begin its new term Monday, and for the first time in 25 years, only eight of its nine seats will be filled, its future to be decided by the presidential election.

The court has been ideologically split between liberals and conservatives since the death in February of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, leaving several important cases without hope of resolution until a new justice is appointed and confirmed by the Senate.

President Barack Obama's nominee for the empty slot, Merrick Garland, has not been confirmed. Senate Republicans say they will wait until the next president is elected to consider any candidates.

That means once U.S. voters choose between two vastly different presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, the person elected will have the power to influence the direction of the Supreme Court for years ahead.

If Clinton wins the election, Garland would most likely be confirmed, giving the court five liberal-leaning justices and four conservative ones. If Trump wins, he would probably find another conservative to replace Scalia, tipping the ideological balance of the court toward conservatism.

Meanwhile, the current justices have a month until Obama's successor is elected, and in that time, they have scheduled cases that are not terribly dependent on ideological leanings: cases about intellectual property, redistricting and insider trading.

No matter which way the election goes, the court could have more openings soon: Two justices are older than 80, and the next oldest is 78.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the oldest at 83, says she is taking her decision to retire one year at a time.

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