Opening Day at the Supreme Court

October 1, 2018
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Today, the Supreme Court’s 8 justices begin hearing cases – WITHOUT Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

It’s only the second time since 1864 the Court will start its new term with 8 (instead of 9) justices.

Why 9?


In 1790, the Supreme Court assembled for the first time in NYC (then our Nation’s Capital) with 6 justices.

From 1790 to 1869, Congress has changed the number of justices 6 times (requiring as many as 10 and as few as 5) until settling at 9 justices.


  • With only 8 justices, a 4-4 tie means the lower court’s ruling stands (as if the Supreme Court never heard the case).
  • A 4-4 case can be reheard once a 9th justice is added. In 2017, the Court reheard a 4-4 case it heard in 2016, and ruled 5-4 to strike down a vauge immigration law that made it easier to deport immigrants convicted of crimes.

Although this term does not yet include any notable cases, *IF* Judge Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed, his lifetime appointment means he’ll start right away and:

“He will likely be the deciding votes on such issues as voting rights, reproductive choice and justice, the ability of everyday Americans to hold big business accountable.”

Elizabeth Wydra, President of the Constitutional Accountability Center

The first time in history the Supreme Court opened a new term with eight justices was in October 2016. After Justice Antonin Scalia's death earlier that year, the court operated with eight justices until Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in April 2017.

by Jenna Lee,