Dear Commons Community!
A divided Supreme Court yesterday blocked a Louisiana law that its opponents say could have left the state with only one doctor in a single clinic authorized to provide abortions.
The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority. That coalition underscored the pivotal position the chief justice has assumed after the departure last year of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who used to hold the crucial vote in many closely divided cases, including ones concerning abortion.
President Donald Trump’s two Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were among the four conservative members of the court who would have allowed the law to take effect.
Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion in which he said the court’s action was premature because the state had made clear it would allow abortion providers an additional 45 days to obtain admitting privileges before it started enforcing the law.
If the doctors succeed, they can continue performing abortions, he said. If they fail, they could return to court, Kavanaugh said.
Louisiana abortion providers and a district judge who initially heard the case said one or maybe two of the state’s three abortion clinics would have to close under the new law. There would be at most two doctors who could meet its requirements, they said.
But the federal appeals court in New Orleans rejected those claims, doubting that any clinics would have to close and saying the doctors had not tried hard enough to establish relationships with local hospitals.
In January, the full appeals court voted 9-6 not to get involved in the case, setting up the Supreme Court appeal.
The law had been scheduled to take effect Monday, but Justice Samuel Alito delayed the effective date at least through Thursday to give the justices more time. He and Justice Clarence Thomas were the other dissenters Thursday.
The justices could decide this spring whether to add the case to their calendar for the term that begins in October.
The case is June Medical Services v. Gee.
Congratulations to the Justices Roberts, Kagan, Breyer, Ginsburg and Sotomayor!