Roberts May Cast Deciding Vote in First Major Abortion Case of Trump Era

March 4, 2020 by Dan McCue
Abortion rights advocates demonstrate outside the Supreme Court building. March 4, 2020. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — All eyes were on Chief Justice John Roberts Wednesday as the Supreme Court appeared to be sharply divided over issues raised during the first major abortion case of the Trump presidency.

The case out of Louisiana could test whether a high court that has grown more conservative with the additions of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, may be more willing than past courts to roll back abortion rights.

At issue is a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

A federal judge found that just one of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics would remain open if the law is allowed to take effect.

But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the law, paving the way for Wednesday’s hearing.

As the case unfolded, hundreds of abortion-rights protestors demonstrated on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court building, while a smaller group of anti-abortion demonstrators stood just feet away, trying to drown them out.

Taking the lead among her liberal colleagues on the court, Justice Elena Kagan suggested that the admitting privileges requirement might be wholly unnecessary.

She noted that in the 23 years the Shreveport, Louisiana clinic at the center of the case has provided abortion services, it had transferred only four patients out of 70,000 to a nearby hospital.

“I don’t know a medical procedure where it’s lower than that,” Kagan said.

Julie Rikelman, the Center for Reproductive Rights lawyer who argued the case on behalf of the clinic, said a trial judge found that abortions in Louisiana are safe and that the law provided no health benefits to women, just as the Supreme Court ruled in an earlier Texas case.

“This case is about respect for the court’s precedent,” Rikelman said.

One of the questions raised by the current case is whether the court will ultimately overrule the 2016 decision to which Rikelman referred. That case also involved a requirement that physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Both Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have joined the court since that decision was handed down.

When the justices temporarily blocked the Louisiana law from taking effect a year ago, Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices to put it on hold. Kavanaugh and Gorsuch were among the four conservatives who would have allowed the law to take effect.

Though preliminary votes do not bind the justices when they undertake a thorough review of an issue, they often signal how a case will come out.

That means Roberts almost certainly will be the deciding vote in this case.

On Wednesday, Roberts did not say much, and didn’t indicate, one way or another, which way he’ll go.

In more than 14 years as chief justice, Roberts has generally voted to uphold abortion restrictions, including in the Texas case four years ago.

The court is expected to render its decision on the case in late June.

Supreme Court

Alito: COVID Crisis Has Been a ‘Constitutional Stress Test’
Supreme Court
Alito: COVID Crisis Has Been a ‘Constitutional Stress Test’
November 13, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., told the Federalist Society in a keynote address Thursday night the coronavirus pandemic has led to "previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty." "I am not diminishing the severity of the virus's threat to public health," Alito continued in a... Read More

Supreme Court Appears Likely to Preserve Most of Affordable Care Act
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Appears Likely to Preserve Most of Affordable Care Act
November 10, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON -- So much for the new conservative majority of the Supreme Court dismantling the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, during oral arguments for California v. Texas, one of this term's most anticipated cases, two members of that majority, suggested they're not inclined to strike down... Read More

All About the New ACA Challenge Before the Supreme Court
Supreme Court
All About the New ACA Challenge Before the Supreme Court
November 10, 2020
by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — This morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a legal challenge seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.  This third major challenge to the ACA heard by the Supreme Court, Texas v. California seeks to decide whether Congress, by eliminating the penalty... Read More

Political Gaze Shifts to the Supreme Court as Justices Hear Pivotal Health Care Case
Supreme Court
Political Gaze Shifts to the Supreme Court as Justices Hear Pivotal Health Care Case

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett hears oral argument Tuesday in a case that threatens to wipe out the 2010 health care law, likely the term's most consequential case, under a political spotlight that rarely shines brighter on justices who would rather stay out of it.... Read More

Supreme Court Blocks Injured Officer's Suit Against Leader of Black Lives Matter Rally
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Blocks Injured Officer's Suit Against Leader of Black Lives Matter Rally

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday set aside an appeals court ruling by a panel of conservative judges that held an injured police officer could sue and win damages from the leader of a Black Lives Matter protest rally. The case had raised alarms among civil libertarians, who said it... Read More

Justice Barrett Participates in Her First Supreme Court Arguments
Supreme Court
Justice Barrett Participates in Her First Supreme Court Arguments
November 2, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON — Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined her new colleagues on the Supreme Court Monday, participating in oral arguments for the first time. The cases on the docket Monday were no head-turners. The first, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club Inc., concerned public disclosure... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top