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Friday, March 11, 2022

No offensive challenges to SB8 against licensing bodies

In Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson, an offensive challenge to SB8, eight Justices (all but Thomas) held that litigation could proceed against state licensing bodies (medical, nursing, pharmaceutical, etc.) to enjoin them from "indirectly" enforcing the heartbeat ban by using performance of a prohibited abortion as the predicate for an administrative sanction. The Court remanded to the Fifth Circuit, which certified to the Supreme Court of Texas whether state law allowed such indirect enforcement. The state court on Friday answered that certified question "no," holding that making private civil litigation the "exclusive" enforcement mechanism meant that no state body had any power to regulate or sanction any person for any SB8 violations in any way.

This is a setback, although a relatively minor one because the action against the medical board could have limited effect. An injunction would have stopped the boards from pursuing licensure actions against providers. It would not have protected those aiders-and-abetters (advocates, Uber drivers, etc.); the state does not license or regulate them or their behavior. And it would not have stopped private "any persons" from bringing civil suits. The suit and injunction would have provided federal precedent declaring SB8 constitutionally invalid and a speedier path to SCOTUS review of the merits. But it would not have stopped the main enforcement mechanisms or cleared the way for providers to return to medical practice as usual.

There may be a way to salvage this action and push federal litigation. One plaintiff, Alan Braid (the doctor who announced having performed a prohibited abortion in the Washington Post), is a defendant in two state-court actions over that abortion, one brought by the Texas Heartbeat Project and one by a disbarred Arkansas lawyer under house arrest. Braid could amend the complaint to name them as defendants acting under color and seeking to enjoin them from pursuing their civil actions. (Braid also has a § 1983 and interpleader action in federal court in Illinois against a third SB8 plaintiff who nonsuited).

Meanwhile, Braid can move to dismiss the pending state actions on the ground that SB8 is constitutionally invalid and proceed to litigate the constitutional issues defensively in state court.

In a bizarre way, this might help judicial challenges to SB8. As Rocky and I argue, this offensive challenge was dubious, given how SB8 was drafted and how it operates. Unable to pursue any "ordinary" mechanism, providers and advocates can focus on unusual-but-available mechanisms on which they are more likely to succeed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 11, 2022 at 01:20 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink

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