Texas Abortion Case Might Be the Next Big Supreme Court Abortion Ruling

Greg_Abbott_by_Gage_Skidmore.jpg
Gage Skidmore
Greg Abbott: Don't Mess With My Law
Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, a/k/a the "Texas Abortion Case," might be the fodder for the Supreme Court's latest pronouncement on abortion. Let's start with the "might": the Supreme Court only takes those cases that it wants to hear (granting a writ of certiorari, in the jargon), so there is the possibility that it could turn down Planned Parenthood's request that it hear the case. However, I think SCOTUS may very well have its hand forced to take the case.

A 10,000-foot background: after passing what many liberals considered draconian abortion legislation -- legislation that would effectively shut down approximately one-third of all abortion clinics in the state -- Planned Parenthood, among others, filed suit in federal district court in Austin to prevent the law from taking effect. Judge Lee Yeakel, who was appointed by Bush II, agreed and issued an injunction, preventing the law from taking effect. The State of Texas (Abbott) appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit, in a decision made by three female judges all appointed by George W. Bush, disagreed with the trial court and reinstated the law. It appears that Judge Yeakel felt constrained by precedent (he's a lower court judge), while the Fifth Circuit flexed its conservative muscles.

(As it stands right now, the Fifth Circuit has set oral argument on the case for January 2014, while Planned Parenthood has taken the relative rare step of asking Justice Scalia to overturn the Fifth Circuit's decision (which would reinstate the injunction by Judge Yeakel; each Supreme Court justice is assigned to a different court of appeals and Scalia oversees the Fifth Circuit). Scalia has given Abbott until November 12 to file a brief responding to Planned Parenthood's requests.

With that background in mind, here's why the Court will probably hear the case -- maybe not this term (though it's possible), but likely next term. Federal district court judges in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Alabama and Mississippi have all struck down laws similar to Texas'. While none of these cases have had a court of appeals rule on those rulings (the Fifth Circuit has jurisdiction over Mississippi), it is likely one will. And it is also likely that one of those courts of appeal will disagree with the Fifth Circuit -- I do not think it's debatable that the laws are unconstitutional under current Supreme Court precedent. This would create a "circuit split," which weighs heavily toward the Supreme Court stepping in saying who is "right."

And that brings us to this: what if it does make it to the Supreme Court? The law will likely be struck down with Justice Kennedy providing the "winning" fifth vote. As you will recall, the Supreme Court reviews abortions regulations to determine if they are an "undue burden" on a woman's right to an abortion. If they are "undue," they're unconstitutional (and vice-versa).

Professor Brannon Denning, who teaches constitutional law at Samford University, told me: "I've never thought that 'undue burden' was much of a standard. Seems to me more of conclusion, which, of course, makes it perfect for Kennedy." That is, Kennedy will find it easy to strike down the Texas legislation. (For what it's worth, I share Professor Denning's aversion to Justice Kennedy).

It's been a while since the Supreme Court weighed in on abortion. The Texas legislature may have sped up that clock.

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6 comments
UH-OH
UH-OH

Who will the abortionists cry to if SCOTUS refuses to hear it? :)

rnemain
rnemain

Read the article first and then looked at who wrote it.  It was a man.  Figures.  Calvin, when you get a womb then you can talk.  In the meantime, my body, my decision and none of your business.

stinapag
stinapag

@UH-OH The Supreme Court. There are other aspects of the Texas law that did not come up in this particular case, including the 20 week rule.  The 9th circuit has already struck down a 20 week rule in Arizona, and the 5th is likely to uphold the Texas law, which is why PP didn't file for an injunction on it.  If that happens, then it's almost guaranteed to go to SCOTUS since the circuit courts are very clearly split.  Sooner or later SCOTUS is going to have to accept an abortion case and everyone will be watching Justice Kennedy very closely.


UH-OH
UH-OH

@rnemain  So only women get to decide whether or not to abort? It takes two to tango, you know.

UH-OH
UH-OH

@stinapag  Reread my comment. What if they decide not to hear it? 


Also,  are you really OK with aborting a fetus at 20 weeks (5 months)? Really?? I think you should think that one over more.

stinapag
stinapag

@UH-OH @stinapag  I have. Very intimately.  Absolutely.  I've carried mono-mono twins that didn't make it that far, but there was a very good chance that they would have.  If I had, I very easily could envision a scenario where my doctors and I would have had to evaluate whether to terminate one in order for the other to even have a chance.  You and the Texas legislature should keep your noses out of my uterus, especially for a decision as painful as that one is.  

And reread mine and got back for all of the cases where two separate circuits reach opposite conclusions where SCOTUS didn't take the case. 


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