Monday, June 29, 2020

Supreme Court Invalidates Louisiana Abortion Law Requiring Clinic Doctors To Have Hospital Admitting Privileges

The U.S. Supreme Court today in June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Russo, (U.S. Sup. Ct., June 29, 2020), by a 5-4 vote, struck down Louisiana's law that requires doctors at abortion clinics to hold active admitting privileges at a hosp[ital within 30 miles of the clinic.  At issue in the case were (1) whether abortion providers have standing to assert their patients' abortion rights, and (2) whether the Louisiana statute is constitutional.  The Court in 2016 in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt struck down a similar Texas statute.

Justice Breyer wrote today's plurality opinion which was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan.  As to standing, the plurality held:
The State did not mention its current objection until it filed its cross-petition—more than five years after it argued that the plaintiffs’ standing was beyond question.
The State’s unmistakable concession of standing as part of its effort to obtain a quick decision from the District Court on the merits of the plaintiffs’ undue-burden claims bars our consideration of it here.
On the merits, the plurality said in part:
The District Court found that enforcing the admitting privileges requirement would “result in a drastic reduction in the number and geographic distribution of abortion providers.” ... In light of demographic, economic, and other evidence, the court concluded that this reduction would make it impossible for “many women seeking a safe, legal abortion in Louisiana . . . to obtain one” and that it would impose “substantial obstacles” on those who could....
The District Court found that there was “‘no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure.’” ...
We conclude, in light of the record, that the District Court’s significant factual findings—both as to burdens and as to benefits—have ample evidentiary support. None is “clearly erroneous.” Given the facts found, we must also uphold the District Court’s related factual and legal determinations. These include its determination that Louisiana’s law poses a “substantial obstacle” to women seeking an abortion; its determination that the law offers no significant health-related benefits; and its determination that the law consequently imposes an “undue burden” on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.
Chief Justice Roberts filed a concurring opinion, saying in part:
I joined the dissent in Whole Woman’s Health and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided. The question today however is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case.....
The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike. The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.
Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, saying in part:
Despite the fact that we granted Louisiana’s petition specifically to address whether “abortion providers [can] be presumed to have third-party standing to challenge health and safety regulations on behalf of their patients,” ... a majority of the Court all but ignores the question. The plurality and THE CHIEF JUSTICE ultimately cast aside this jurisdictional barrier to conclude that Louisiana’s law is unconstitutional under our precedents. But those decisions created the right to abortion out of whole cloth, without a shred of support from the Constitution’s text. Our abortion precedents are grievously wrong and should be overruled.
Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Gorsuch, and joined in part by Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh, saying in part:
The plurality concludes that the Louisiana law does nothing to protect the health of women, but that is disproved by substantial evidence in the record. And the plurality upholds the District Court’s finding that the Louisiana law would cause a drastic reduction in the number of abortion providers in the State even though this finding was based on an erroneous legal standard and a thoroughly inadequate factual inquiry....
Both the plurality and THE CHIEF JUSTICE hold that abortion providers can invoke a woman’s abortion right when they attack state laws that are enacted to protect a woman’s health. .... [T]he idea that a regulated party can invoke the right of a third party for the purpose of attacking legislation enacted to protect the third party is stunning. Given the apparent conflict of interest, that concept would be rejected out of hand in a case not involving abortion.
Justice Gorsuch filed a dissenting opinion, saying in part:
The judicial power is constrained by an array of rules. Rules about the deference due the legislative process, the standing of the parties before us, the use of facial challenges to invalidate democratically enacted statutes, and the award of prospective relief. Still more rules seek to ensure that any legal tests judges may devise are capable of neutral and principled administration. Individually, these rules may seem prosaic. But, collectively, they help keep us in our constitutionally assigned lane, sure that we are in the business of saying what the law is, not what we wish it to be.
Today’s decision doesn’t just overlook one of these rules. It overlooks one after another....
Justice Kavanaugh filed a dissent, saying in part:
[I]n my view, additional fact finding is necessary to properly evaluate Louisiana’s law. As JUSTICE ALITO thoroughly and carefully explains, the factual record at this stage of plaintiffs’ facial, pre-enforcement challenge does not adequately demonstrate that the three relevant doctors ... cannot obtain admitting privileges or, therefore, that any of the three Louisiana abortion clinics would close as a result of the admitting-privileges law.
New York Times reports on the decision.