I'm assuming that constitutional matters at a federal level are decided by a panel of judges. Is it then possible for such decision to be hung like what can happen with juries? Are judges allowed to abstain from voting or is it as simple as being put to a vote and there always being an odd number of votes?

1 Answer 1


Constitutional matters can be, and often are, decided by a single judge in a garden-variety trial court. It's just that the judge's decisions may be reviewed and possibly overturned by a higher court, one of which is the supreme court. Furthermore, district courts are bound by precedent. If a case turns on a new statute, however, the trial judge can indeed find that new statute unconstitutional without a higher court first having done so.

If a panel of judges is evenly divided on whether to overturn a lower court's ruling, the lower court's ruling stands, but no precedent is set.

The supreme court often has an even number of justices hearing a case, whether because of a vacancy or because a justice has recused him or herself.

  • What is the difference between abstaining and recusal in this context?
    – Neil Meyer
    Aug 19, 2021 at 3:12
  • @NeilMeyer I'm not aware of a justice abstaining other than through recusal. Whatever the reasons underlying a particular voting pattern, though, reversal of a lower court's decision requires a majority.
    – phoog
    Aug 19, 2021 at 3:17
  • This only partially answers the question. It demonstrates that in most cases, the answer is a "no." But it does not definitely show that the answer is always a "no." Namely, can a question remain undecided in a case in which SCOTUS has the "original jurisdiction."
    – grovkin
    Aug 19, 2021 at 5:04
  • @grovkin the same principle applies: if the court is evenly divided, the moving party's motion is not sustained. However, such cases have no precedential value. I'll add this to the answer.
    – phoog
    Aug 19, 2021 at 5:35

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