In its ruling Thursday in Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Supreme Court was badly divided, producing no majority opinion and leaving the breadth of its impact unclear. Four justices said a judicial decision that extinguishes property rights can be viewed as a taking under the Takings Clause, but four other justices said that issue did not need to be resolved in this case. In either case, the Court was unanimous in upholding a Florida Supreme Court decision about oceanfront property lines that a group of affected property owners had challenged.

What about the ninth vote? That was missing, because Justice John Paul Stevens had recused abruptly in the case at the oral argument stage. And though it’s hard to say for sure how the case would have turned out if Stevens had stayed in the case, there probably would have been a majority for some proposition — making it clear yet again that the recusal of a single justice can make a big difference in a case.

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