Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Historians Weigh in on All That is Wrong with the Legal History of the SCT's Abortion Decision

Patricia, The Dobbs Decision Looks to History to Rescind Roe

Friday’s Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization relies on history to rescind the constitutional right to a legal abortion established by Roe v. Wade in 1973. There’s just one problem: the history it relies on is not correct.

Writing for the majority in Dobbs, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. argues that Roe disrupted “an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment” that had “persisted from the earliest days of the common law until 1973.” But the real picture is far blurrier — and even once states began passing stricter abortion laws between the 1820s and 1880s, public sentiment did not follow. Few abortion providers were convicted under the new laws, indicating that most Americans didn’t see abortion as a crime.

Anglo-American common law initially guided the U.S. on abortion. Under common law, abortion was only punishable after “quickening,” defined as the moment the mother first felt fetal movement — typically between 16 to 22 weeks of gestation.

Reva Siegel, The Trump Court Limited Women’s Rights Using 19th-century Standards

But Dobbs is plainly a political project. Reversing Roe has been the animating goal of the conservative legal movement since it mobilized under the banner of originalism during the Reagan administration. Far from setting aside politics in favor of a neutral interpretation of law, Alito’s decision reveals how conservative judges encode movement goals and values under cover of highly selective historical claims.***

Justice Alito claims that tying the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment’s liberty guarantee to America’s “history and traditions” prevents the justices from imposing their own views on the case at hand. “In interpreting what is meant by the Fourteenth Amendment’s reference to 'liberty,’” he writes, “we must guard against the natural human tendency to confuse what that Amendment protects with our own ardent views about the liberty that Americans should enjoy.” Here he echoes the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote, in “Originalism: The Lesser Evil,” that looking to history “establishes a historical criterion that is conceptually quite separate from the preferences of the judge himself.”

But Dobbs shows why both of these claims are wrong. A judge’s turn to the historical record can just as easily disguise judicial discretion as constrain it.

In Dobbs, the Trump court defines the Constitution’s protections for liberty largely with reference to laws enacted in mid-19th-century America. During that period — conveniently enough — there was a campaign to ban abortion across the nation. (Alito includes an appendix enumerating many of these state statutes.) But consider what else was part of this period’s “history and traditions”: The law did not protect a wife’s right to control property, earnings, or sex in marriage; this was a period when the Supreme Court declared states could deny women the right to practice law and states could deny women the right to vote.

Why would the Supreme Court today tether the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment’s liberty guarantee to laws enacted by men with such a cramped view of women’s rights? The move is unprecedented.

Jill Hasday, On Roe, Alito Cites a Judge who Treated Women as Witches and Property

There are at least two problems with Alito’s reliance on history. First, Alito has misrepresented the actual historical record. As abundant historical research establishes, the common law that governed America in its first decades and beyond did not regulate abortion before “quickening” — the moment when a pregnant woman first detects fetal movement, which can happen as late as 25 weeks into pregnancy.

Alito reports that [Judge] Hale “described abortion of a quick child who died in the womb as a ‘great crime’ ” while glossing over the key part of that passage. Hale wrote that abortion was a crime “if a woman be quick or great with child.” Note the “if.”

Second, Alito relies on sources such as Hale without acknowledging their entanglement with legalized male supremacy. The men who cited Hale as they constructed the early American legal order refused to give women the right to vote or to otherwise enjoy full citizenship. Relying on that history of injustice as a reason to deny modern women control over their own lives is a terrible argument but apparently the best Alito can do.

Hale was a man who believed women could be witches, assumed women were liars and thought husbands owned their wives’ bodies. It is long past time to leave that misogyny behind.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2022/06/historians-weigh-in-on-all-that-is-wrong-with-the-legal-history-of-the-scts-abortion-decision.html

Abortion, Constitutional, Judges, Legal History, Reproductive Rights, SCOTUS | Permalink

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