Tuesday, November 19, 2013
In a 5-4 decision in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott, the United States Supreme Court has refused to vacate the Fifth Circuit's stay of the district judge's injunction against the enforcement of the abortion restriction law known as Texas HB 2, that had been the subject of the well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis.
The Court's Order was accompanied by two opinions. In the first, a concurring opinion authored by Justice Scalia and joined by Justices Thomas and Alito, the four factors for a stay are laid out:
(1) whether the State made a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits,
(2) whether the State would have been irreparably injured absent a stay,
(3) whether issuance of a stay would substantially injure other parties, and
(4) where the public interest lay.
Justice Scalia's relatively brief opinion is primarily a refutation of the dissenting opinion, arguing that the
dissent would vacate the Court of Appeals’ stay without expressly rejecting that court’s analysis of any of the governing factors. And it would flout core principles of federalism by mandating postponement of a state law without asserting that the law is even probably un- constitutional. Reasonable minds can perhaps disagree about whether the Court of Appeals should have granted a stay in this case. But there is no doubt that the applicants have not carried their heavy burden of showing that doing so was a clear violation of accepted legal standards— which do not include a special “status quo” standard for laws affecting abortion.
The dissent, written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, argued that the Fifth Circuit's issuance of the stay was "demonstrably wrong" in its application of the standards for issuing a stay based on six reasons:
- the district judge's order maintained the status quo that existed in Texas prior to the hospital admitting privileges requirement;
- the Fifth Circuit's stay disrupted that status quo, so that a "significant number of women seeking abortions" will be affected and that the "longer a given facility remains closed, the less likely it is ever to reopen even if the admitting privileges requirement is ultimately held unconstitutional;"
- the Fifth Circuit agreed to expedite its consideration, again favoring the status quo;
- the balance of harms tilts in favor of the applicants;
- the "underlying legal question—whether the new Texas statute is constitutional—is a difficult question" that at least four Members of this Court will wish to consider irrespective of the Fifth Circuit's ultimate decision;" and
- there was not a significant public interest consideration.
Given the four Justices who joined the dissent, it is clear that the decision not to vacate the stay was 5-4, although Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts did not join Justice Scalia's concurring opinion.
The restrictive abortion statute passed by Texas has been deeply divisive and the Court's decision demonstrates that the members of the Court are likewise deeply divided.