Friday, January 6, 2023
The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the state's ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy violated the state constitution's right to privacy.
In doing so, the court broke with the historical approach that the Supreme Court used last summer in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, when it overturned Roe v. Wade. The Court in Dobbs used only history before and leading up to the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment didn't protect a right to abortion, whereas the South Carolina Supreme Court also considered the place of women in political society at the time of the adoption of the provision at issue and events that have "transpired since the amendment was adopted."
The court based the ruling on Article I, Section 10, of the South Carolina Constitution, which says: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures and unreasonable invasions of privacy shall not be violated." The provision sounds like the Fourth Amendment, with the addition of a specific right to privacy. But the court rejected a reading that would've limited the privacy part to government searches and seizures; it said that the privacy part wouldn't be doing any work if it were so limited, and that it therefore must grant a more general right to privacy.
The court also rejected a reading of the provision that depended on what the provision's framers thought at the time of adoption in the mid-1960s, given that women weren't included in the framing committee and given that the state "had neither permitted women to serve on juries in this state nor ratified the Nineteenth Amendment."
The court then wrote that "[w]e cannot relegate our role of declaring whether a legislative act is constitutional by blinding ourselves to everything that has transpired since the amendment was adopted." It said the Court specifically "declined to do so in the context of 'separate but equal' education in Brown v. Board of Education, then quoted this passage:
[W]e cannot turn the clock back to 1868 when the Amendment was adopted, or even to 1896 when Plessy v. Ferguson was written. We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws.
The approach is a notable break from the Supreme Court's historical approach in Dobbs, when it considered history only before and leading up to the Fourteenth Amendment, and certainly not "everything that has transpired since the amendment was adopted." The South Carolina Supreme Court put a fine point on this break by noting that the Court itself didn't limit its historical assessment to pre-Fourteenth Amendment history in other unenumerated-fundamental-rights cases like Loving, Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.