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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

(SCOTUS Term) The goose is sauced, but the gander is not

On Tuesday, the Court in NIFLA v. Becerra declared invalid, at least preliminarily, California laws requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose and advertise certain information about the procedures and services (specifically related to abortion) that can be had for free at state-run facilities. I do not know how much this will hurt the state, because there should be other ways for the state to get this information out--including posting signs outside the clinics themselves.

The problem is that the Court's analysis suggests that the goose and the gander will not be sauced in the same way. The counterpart to California's compelling facilities to provide information about abortion services is states compelling doctors to inform patients about about the development of the fetus, alternatives to terminating the pregnancy, and (often false) information about the risks and effects of abortion, as well to show the patient the ultrasound and play the fetal heartbeat. The Court declared valid one such law valid in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and others have been challenged unsuccessfully in the lower courts. The majority's explanation is that Casey dealt with informed consent surrounding a "medical procedure," analysis that also applies to other abortion script laws. On the other hand, these clinics are not performing "medical procedures," so the state cannot compel providers to say things as part of informed consent. But that gives the game away--terminating the pregnancy always requires a procedure, whereas not terminating the pregnancy does not require a procedure. (Well, other than ultrasounds, prenatal tests, C-sections, and other things related to birth itself). So this decision likely will be used to declare valid speech compulsions imposed by legislatures seeking to eliminate abortion, while barring compulsions by legislatures seeking to protect women who might seek abortions.

If the "medical procedure" line does not show the one-sidedness, Justice Kennedy's short concurring opinion, emphasizing the viewpoint-discrimination in these regulations (a point Justice Thomas avoided), clinches the point. The challenged law "compels individuals to contradict their most deeply held beliefs, beliefs grounded in basic philosophical, ethical, or religious precepts, or all of these." Medical providers opposed to abortion can point to such precepts. Medical providers willing to perform abortions will not be able to identify a similar philosophical, ethical, or religious precept against having to read to a patient a script containing false medical information.

Finally, a question about that concurring opinion. Kennedy wrote it for himself, the Chief, Alito, and Gorsuch--in other words, four of the five Justices in the majority, other than the author. Can anyone recall this happening--four out of a five-Justice majority join one separate opinion? What went on internally that Thomas would not include something about viewpoint discrimination, even in a footnote, when every Justice joining his opinion wanted to talk about it? And why did the four remain with Thomas as author? Surely there was nothing in the two-page concurrence with which Thomas disagrees.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2018 at 05:20 PM in 2018 End of Term, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

Comments

I actually don't know if Thomas agrees with that florid concurring opinion, which zanily seems to suggest that California is run by an "authoritarian regime," or at least that California needs to better understand "the history of authoritarian government" and "authoritarian regimes" before it makes crisis pregnancy centers tell women about alternate treatment options to whatever it is that crisis pregnancy centers do. But anyway, they wouldn't be likely to force a change in authorship over Thomas's refusal to include those musings in his opinion when Kennedy, Gorsuch, Alito and Roberts had all already written their one opinion for the March sitting, and Thomas hadn't.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Jun 26, 2018 5:39:59 PM

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