Scalia's absence to be felt as U.S. Supreme Court returns

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Antonin Scalia Laid To Rest With Son's Sermon In Washington, DC

The eight remaining members of the U.S. Supreme Court will feel the absence of their late colleague Justice Antonin Scalia in more ways than one when they return to work on Monday.

A somber mood is expected as the court hears oral arguments in two cases, its first action since Scalia, 79, died on Feb. 13 at a Texas hunting resort. Scalia was a conservative mainstay who was known for posing tough questions to lawyers and for provoking laughter with his observations during oral arguments.

SEE ALSO: Scalia mourned as late U.S. Justice's funeral draws thousands

His death left the court with four conservatives and four liberals and triggered a furious fight between President Barack Obama, set to name Scalia's successor, and Senate Republicans who have vowed to block any nominee from the Democratic president, with the court's balance of power at stake.

Court observers said Scalia could have represented the deciding vote in one of the two cases to be argued on Monday, involving the rights of criminal defendants.

Photos from Justice Antonin Scalia's funeral:

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Scalia's absence to be felt as U.S. Supreme Court returns
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: With family members following behind, pallbearers carry the casket of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia up the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: With family members following behind, pallbearers carry the casket of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia up the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The casket of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is carried into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for his funeral mass on February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia died on February 13 at the age of 79. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
The casket of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is carried into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for his funeral mass on February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia died on February 13 at the age of 79. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia Thomas arrive for the funeral for fellow Associate Justice Antonin Scalia at the the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: Former Vice President Dick Cheney, left, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas take their seats for funeral Mass for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: People arrive for the funeral for the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: Republican presidental candiate Sen. Ted Cruz, center, and former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, upper left, take their seats for funeral Mass for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: People arrive for funeral Mass for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
The procession for the funeral mass for the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
The casket containing the body of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia leaves the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington following funeral mass services, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Widow Maureen McCarthy Scalia, center, and other family members, walk behind the casket as it is ushered out of the Bascilica following the funeral mass for the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The Rev. Fr Paul Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, speaks during the funeral mass for Justice Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
The crucifix leads the recession out of the Basilica following the funeral depart the funeral mass for the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
Widow Maureen McCarthy Scalia, walks behind the casket as it is ushered out of the Bascilica following the funeral mass for the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left and his wife Virginia Thomas, right, leave the the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington after attending funeral services of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Members of the honor guard get into position as they prepare for the arrival of the casket containing the body of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, before the start of a funeral mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Vice President Joe Biden and the eight remaining Supreme Court justices are expected to be among thousands attending this morning's funeral for Justice Antonin Scalia. One of Scalia's nine children, the Rev. Paul Scalia, will lead the Mass at the nation's largest Roman Catholic church. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and his wife Jane Sullivan Roberts lead a procession of current and former Supreme Court justices down the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the end of the funeral for late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: With family members following behind, pallbearers carry the casket of late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia down the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the end of the funeral, February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: People look on during the funeral Mass for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
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With his absence, the court could end up splitting 4-4, meaning the lower court ruling would stand and no nationwide precedent would be set. The court also could order the case to be re-argued after the Senate confirms Scalia's replacement.

With the showdown between Obama and Senate Republicans raising the possibility of a long wait before Scalia's successor is confirmed, the court will remain shorthanded for an uncertain period of time.

The court could split 4-4 on several important cases during its current term, which runs through the end of June. They include its first abortion case since 2007, a presidential powers dispute involving Obama's unilateral actions on immigration policy, and a conservative challenge to organized labor's clout.

UTAH CASE

The court on Monday will hear an appeal filed by Utah officials of a ruling by the state's top court in favor of Edward Strieff, who was convicted on drug charges. The state Supreme Court ruled that evidence presented by prosecutors against Strieff was inadmissible because it violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment.

Scalia was in the majority in two 5-4 rulings in recent years backing police in similar cases.

"Scalia's vote might have been critical," George Washington University Law School professor Orin Kerr said of the Strieff case.

Strieff was convicted of methamphetamine possession and a related drug charge after his vehicle was stopped by police.

His lawyers contend Strieff's Fourth Amendment rights were violated because although there was a warrant issued for his arrest at the time of the search, the police officer did not know that when he stopped Strieff's vehicle.

Before hearing Strieff's case, the justices will consider a dispute between a federal contractor and the U.S. government. The first lawyer due to step up the lectern on Monday will be Thomas Saunders of the Wilmer Hale law firm, representing the contractor.

"I expect the justices will be in a somber mood as they mourn the passing of a valued colleague. My job is simply to stay focused and go forward, with respect for the moment and the loss that has occurred," Saunders said.

Carter Phillips of the firm Sidley Austin, arguing a patent case on Tuesday, predicted the tone would be different than usual. "I think there is some chance that there will be fewer questions and almost certainly fewer laughs," said Phillips, who has argued previous cases before the court.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Potential replacements for Justice Scalia:

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Potential replacements for Justice Scalia, SCOTUS
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Scalia's absence to be felt as U.S. Supreme Court returns

Sri Srinivasan, Federal appeals court judge

(United States Department of Justice)

Judge Merrick Garland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

(Photo via the United States District Court for the District of Columbia)

Loretta Lynch, the current U.S. Attorney General. 

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Paul Watford, currently a U.S. circuit judge for the Ninth Circuit.

(Photo by Bill Clark/Getty Images)

Patricia Ann Millett, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, pictured here with Obama when she was nominated to that court.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

California Attorney General Kamala Harris

(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Jacquline Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American woman named to the state court in California.

(Photo by Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval withdrew his name after the Obama administration expressed interest in late February.

(AP Photo/Cathleen Allison, File)

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