The United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling Wednesday night, denied a plea by Texas abortion clinics to temporarily halt the state’s harsh new legislation limiting the practice while legal challenges are pursued.
Most abortions will be banned beyond six weeks of pregnancy, and anybody who believes someone is giving or aiding someone in having an abortion after six weeks will be able to sue them.
The providers had “raised substantial issues regarding the legality of the Texas legislation at issue,” according to the unsigned court ruling, but “their application also raises difficult and new antecedent procedural questions” that they were unable to answer.
The Court specifically questioned whether the state officials sued in this case were the proper targets because they do not execute Texas law, and whether state courts might be lawfully directed to deny cases under S.B. 8 by the justices.
The court stated, “We underline that in reaching this determination, we do not intend to decide conclusively any jurisdictional or substantive matter in the applicants’ complaint.” “In particular, this order is not based on any finding regarding Texas’ statute’s legality, and it in no way precludes further procedurally valid challenges to Texas law, including in Texas state courts.”
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan joined Chief Justice John Roberts in dissenting from the decision.
Roberts said he would have pushed to keep the status quo, at least temporarily, despite the Texas law’s “unique” design.
“I would provide preliminary relief to maintain the status quo ante—before the statute took effect—so that the courts may evaluate whether a state can avoid liability for its laws in this way. Existing principles, the defendants contend, prevent judicial involvement, and they may be accurate “he penned “However, the ramifications of allowing the state action, both in this case and as a model for action in other areas, call for at least preliminary judicial review before the State’s program takes effect.”
Kagan chastised her colleagues for approving a broad abortion restriction “in plain and unmistakable contradiction with Roe and Casey” without a more thorough legal procedure.
“The majority proceeded without consulting the Court of Appeals, which is now debating the identical concerns. It has only looked at the most basic party contributions, and then only quickly. And it makes no attempt to explain why it came to that conclusion—that a challenge to a plainly illegal abortion legislation supported by a completely unprecedented enforcement system is unlikely to succeed “she said “In all of these respects, the majority’s judgment exemplifies far too much of this Court’s shadowdocket decisionmaking, which is becoming increasingly irrational, contradictory, and hard to justify every day. I respectfully disagree with you.”
Sotomayor slammed the court’s ruling, calling the Texas legislation a “breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s traditions, and of the rights of women seeking abortions across Texas.”
“A majority of Justices have chosen to bury their heads in the sand when faced with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional legislation intended to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights and escape judicial scrutiny,” she said.
She added, “Last night, the Court silently acquiesced in a State’s passage of a statute that defies nearly 50 years of federal tradition.” “I dissent because the Court’s refusal to act promotes methods meant to evade judicial scrutiny and harms the applicants and women seeking abortions in Texas.”
Breyer, who has written many important judgments supporting women’s rights to abortion, said the court has a strong responsibility to act to avoid violations of clearly established constitutional rights.
“I understand that Texas law gives the state’s ability to restrict abortions to everyone, not just one person (such as a district attorney) or a small group of people (such as a group of government officials or private residents). However, I don’t understand why that fact should matter in a legal sense “he stated “That delegation still threatens to infringe on a constitutional right, and its implementation still poses a serious risk of damage.”
Abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy are illegal in Texas, making it the first and only state in the US to do so. Due to legal challenges, twelve additional states have approved similar early-term prohibitions that have yet to take effect. The contentious statute also casts doubt on the future of the historic Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling from 1972.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, tweeted after the court’s judgment on Wednesday, “The verdict we received today has left us saddened. Our patients are terrified and perplexed, anxiously attempting to find out how to obtain an abortion. We’re not sure what’ll happen next. Our employees and providers are terrified…”