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Friday, June 24, 2022

Thoughts on fearing for the darkness

Some random thoughts on a legal earthquake.

• The opinion appears substantively unchanged from the leaked draft, other than responding to the other opinions and obvious proofreading. Clearly Kavanaugh was the Chief's target. We can read his concurrence as trying to carve a gentle and less-provocative middle ground between the majority's muscular overruling and the Chief's decide-nothing-more.

• This day has been coming like a slow-moving train since Election Night 2016, if not Election Night 2014 (when the Republicans regained the Senate and Justice Ginsburg had not resigned). I recommend Orin Kerr's Twitter thread that captures how Democrats/abortion-rights supporters went from "Garland-as-fifth-vote-to-secure-Roe" to Dobbs in less than a decade. Anyone (*cough* Susan Collins) who did not recognize this day as inevitable since Election Night 2016--or at least since Kennedy's resignation--is naive or ignorant (or, as someone suggested, lying about believing those assurances).

• Did the leak work? If the goal was to hold a shaky majority, yes; if the goal was to pressure someone to leave the majority, no. If the goal was to soften the opinion's effects by creating a distracting process story or softening the sting of the opinion, no; people seem pretty worked up and ready to protest and act, even if they saw this coming. It depends on if we find out who the leaker is and why they leaked.

• There is no easy answer to what happens next, but some things to watch:

    1) How much did this decision embolden anti-choice states? Do they ban abortion without exception or do they allow exceptions (life, health, rape, incest, a month of leeway)? Do they resume enforcing restrictive pre-Roe zombies? Do they go after pregnant people or only providers? Do they go after those who provide information and funding? How aggressively will prosecutors investigate and prosecute miscarriages and other "bad" behavior by pregnant people?

        Consider Arkansas' (now-valid) trigger law banning abortion with only a life-of-the-mother exception. Governor Asa Hutchinson suggested the state might add a rape-and-incest exception if Roe is overruled. This is a version of the dog-catching-the-car. States have performatively enacted extreme laws that would hurt millions, knowing they were unenforceable but allowed for political points. Now that those extreme laws are enforceable, Hutchinson realizes the immorality or unpopularity of the extreme and might walk it walk it back. Do other states follow suit and show restraint when their choices have real effects on real people or do they continue the race to the bottom because they can?

    2) Relatedly, does Dobbs embolden those states to go after the other rights that conservatives hate as much as abortion--same-sex marriage, contraception, sex? The assurances from Alito and Kavanaugh (and many who criticized Steve Vladeck and Leah Litman) focus on the wrong actors at the wrong time, at least for the moment. The action occurs in two other forums first: 1) Will states push the envelope in other areas--will they enact and enforce new laws banning purchase and use of contraception or whether states will begin enforcing existing zombie laws prohibiting sodomy (the Texas law at issue in Lawrence remains on the books) or same-sex marriage (same in many states); 2) What will restless lower-court judges do with the signal from Dobbs and from Thomas' concurrence if states get frisky--it is not hard to imagine a panel of the Fifth Circuit declaring valid a Louisiana ban on certain contraception. These steps are necessary before we see what the Justices will do. And that process could take several years, during which the make-up of the Court changes or people stop paying attention to Dobbs' "abortion-is-different" promises.

    3) It is nonsense to believe the courts are out of this area. The dissent shows why, as does this paper by David Cohen, Greer Donley, and Rachel Rebouche. These controversies extend beyond substantive due process to free speech, the right to travel, and other non-disfavored rights implicated in an abortion context. Scalia warned about the "abortion ad hoc nullifcation machine," in which the connection to abortion limits other, supposedly stronger rights (he complained about restrictions on clinic protesters). Will we see that in reverse--will the connection of other rights to the no-longer-favored abortion context limit those other rights? For example, will the Court allow states to sanction political expression concerning illegal-in-a-state abortions, remaining "scrupulously neutral" about abortion and allowing states to limit certain speech in the name of limiting (unprotected) abortion? Alito and Thomas have supported restrictions on speech with which they disagree; will others follow suit?

    4) How much teeth does rational-basis review have here, if a state goes to the extreme? Is it unreasonable to make a pregnant woman endanger her life or health in favor of a fetus? Is there any other context in which the law requires an ordinary person to risk her life for another?

• Biden's statement attempted to create a campaign issue. He called on Congress to codify Roe (whatever that means). He add that if Congress lacks the votes to do that (which it does), people must elect representatives who will, making. The question is how politically salient this is for the (apparent majorities) who support reproductive freedom--can the issue galvanize supporters to turn out in large numbers in the way it galvanizes opponents? Supporters have had Roe as the guardrail for 50 years. Does its actual loss awaken everyone to the ballot in a way its threatened loss (which was obvious in 2016) did not?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2022 at 04:14 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


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