Saturday, October 09, 2021

5th Circuit Issues Narrow Stay Of Injunction Against Texas "Heartbeat" Abortion Law

As has been widely reported (CNN), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals early today in United States v. State of Texas, (5th Cir. Oct. 9, 2021) temporarily lifted the Texas federal district court's preliminary injunction against enforcement of Texas S.B. 8, the state's "heartbeat" abortion ban that is enforced solely through private civil actions for statutory damages. An appeal was filed by Texas and by three intervenors who planned to sue under the new law. In its motion (full text) filed yesterday, Texas said:

The State respectfully requests an emergency stay pending appeal ...  and an administrative stay as soon as possible to prevent it from being held in contempt for the actions of third parties it cannot and does not control.

In its motion, Texas argued in part:

[S]tate court clerks are now enjoined from “accepting,” “docketing,” or “maintaining” any S.B. 8 case, ... but “[t]he longstanding rule in Texas is that an instrument is deemed in law filed at the time it is left with the clerk, regardless of whether or not” a clerk adds “a file mark.”... Thus, an S.B. 8 suit “is ‘filed’ when it is tendered to the clerk,” regardless of the clerk’s actions.... Once such a suit is filed, clerks can be accused of “accepting,” “docketing,” and “maintaining” it, especially given the district court’s failure to define the terms it used. Put simply, there is no way for the State to ensure compliance with this injunction and avoid contempt proceedings.

In its decision today, the 5th Circuit apparently focused on this narrow concern. Its order provides:

IT IS ORDERED that Intervenors’ emergency motion to stay the preliminary injunction pending appeal is temporarily held in abeyance pending further order by this motions panel. Appellee is directed to respond to the emergency motion by 5 pm on Tuesday, October 12, 2021.

IT IS ORDERED that Intervenors’ motion for a temporary administrative stay pending the court’s consideration of the emergency motion is GRANTED.