Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Analysis: Ohio Legislature Threatens Jurisdiction Stripping to Prevent Enforcement of New Constitutional Right to Reproductive Freedom

In November, people in Ohio passed an initiative for Reproductive Freedom of abortion, contraception, and reproductive rights by 57%. The initiative was proposed by a public petition process, where pro-choice supporters from the medical profession led the petition signing campaign to get the amendment on the ballot.

Maneuvers to Defeat Reproductive Freedom Amendment

The Ohio legislature and executive, Republican controlled, tried many maneuvers to defeat this amendment. The legislature added an August special election to change the standard for passing a constitutional amendment by initiative from 50% to 60%. After prohibiting special August elections the year before. The voters rejected that change in the one-hundred year standard by 57%. Then the Secretary of State “summarized” the actual language of the amendment in ways that suggested abortion would be freely allowed any time (while the amendment expressly says prohibitions are allowed after fetal viability) and changed fetus to “unborn child.” One poll showed this impacted 5% of the voters, particularly men and conservative women in the middle, who would have withdrawn their support based on the language. Then the Attorney General issued an “explanation” of the amendment that called it an extreme law that established a new level of “exclusive scrutiny” under the constitution never before seen. Even though the amendment is a reasonable restoration of the prior balance of Roe and state law drawn at viability and applying strict scrutiny. The Governor advocated strongly against the amendment, calling it extreme and jeopardizing parents’ rights over minors’ abortions. See Jessica Bulman-Pozen & Miriam Seifter The Right to Amend State Constitutions, Yale L.J. Forum (Nov. 10, 2023) (discussing larger trend of  maneuvers to block the right to amend). 

After the passage of amendment, the Governor announced he accepted the results of the election and recognized the amendment. “He said along with the rest of Ohioans, the state will wait to see how the constitutional amendment is applied.” “I always said that all of at least can be up to the courts," DeWine said. "So these things will have to play out in the court of law. So we will we'll see how they how they play out and what the courts decide."

Repeal or Replace

There have been some hints of new amendments to be quickly proposed to “repeal or replace” the 2023 Amendment. Reproductive Freedom Wins in Ohio. But That's Not the End of the Story.  Ohio has no regulatory limits on new amendments, unlike some states that have laws prohibiting these types of immediate proposals. Seven states have limits on repeat measures, typically temporal restrictions that prevent similar measures within 2 to 3 years.

Ohio has some precedent on this type of repeal. Ohio’s constitution originally banned gambling. But in 1973, voters approved a state lottery. Between 1973-2009, four initiatives failed to approve casinos, with one barely passing in 2009.

A similar back and forth happened with women’s presidential suffrage in 1917. Presidential suffrage was a partial suffrage measure granting women the right to vote in presidential elections. The legislature passed a bill authorizing presidential suffrage. But opponents, most from the liquor industry fearing women voters would vote for prohibition, quickly put together an initiative to repeal the law. Women suffragists led by attorney and later Judge Florence Allen challenged the petition signatures as fraudulent. But the amendment was placed on the ballot and strongly passed, thus overturning women’s limited suffrage. See Tracy Thomas, The Jurisprudence of the First Woman Judge, 27 William & Mary J. Race, Gender & Social Justice J. 293, 316-17 (2001).

Threats of Jurisdiction Stripping

However, the legislature has not. A significant minority of legislators issued a statement saying they intend to strip courts of jurisdiction to hear cases about the amendment. See Ohio GOP Lost on Issue 1. Now Some Want to Strip Power Over Abortion Laws from the Courts. “Jurisdiction” is a court’s power or authority to consider a case. What this proposal does is prevent courts from enforcing the amendment by injunction and by declaring laws in contravention of the Reproductive Freedom Amendment unconstitutional. Because these legislators have indicated they will not recognize or enforce this right.

The Ohio legislative group issued a statement saying it would pass a bill saying that the state courts and/or Supreme Court could not hear cases about reproductive rights and/or would limit enforcement remedies like injunctions and contempt it could award. “The draft proposal from Rep. Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester) said state lawmakers would have exclusive authority over implementing Issue 1, with all jurisdiction withdrawn from local and state courts. It also would order the immediate dismissal of lawsuits, and violations by judges would be impeachable offenses.” Id.

 "It's even more extreme than I expected. A better title would be the Issue 1 Non-Implementation Act," said Steven Steinglass, dean emeritus at the Cleveland State College of Law and wrote the best known book on Ohio’s constitution.

Steinglass said the draft proposal violates the state's constitution in several ways. He said it goes against the new reproductive rights amendment, it violates the constitutional role given to the judiciary to interpret constitutional issues and goes against principles of separation of powers. He said it violates due process at the state and federal level, and he also said it arguably violates equal protection laws.

"So it seems to me that legally it really is and should be a non-starter," Steinglass said. Id.

 The Unconstitutionality of Jurisdiction Stripping

Jurisdiction stripping is a political tool from conservative playbooks to limit judicial action on social issues. In the 1980s, federal Congress members proposed bills to remove or limit the power of the U.S. Supreme Court to adjudicate issues of abortion, desegregation busing, and school prayer. Four bills were introduced in 1981 specifically to limit jurisdiction over abortion in opposition to Roe v. Wade. Chief Justice Roberts, then working as a lawyer in the Senate, did the research endorsing this approach. (And recently, liberals have grabbed on to jurisdiction stripping as a court-reform strategy to limit the impact of the current Supreme Court).

Jurisdiction stripping assumes that the legislature has power to dictate the jurisdiction of the courts, and thus has the power to limit that jurisdiction. At the federal level, this is Congress’ power under Article III of the Constitution to create the appellate jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court with exceptions and its power over the lower courts.

However, jurisdiction stripping is blatantly unconstitutional conduct. It violates separation of powers, one of the key principles of the U.S. Constitution establishing three branches of government with checks and balances on each. Eliminating jurisdiction from courts over targeted controversial issues encroaches on the legislature’s power to interpret the law and check the excesses of the legislature. It threatens the rule of law itself if the dialogue with the judicial branch is strangled and legislatures are unaccountable to constitutional rights.

The potential power of jurisdiction stripping is also different whether a statutory or constitutional right is at issue. Tracy Thomas, Congress' Section 5 Power and Remedial Rights, 34 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 673 (2001). There is some support for the argument that legislatures can remove or limit jurisdiction or remedies for statutory rights, because they created those very statutory rights and could eliminate those rights completely. Id. at 696. However, constitutional rights are superior paramount rights that are not created by the legislature. The legislature cannot eliminate or change that constitutional right short of subsequent constitutional amendment. Without the power to change the right, there is no power to change the procedure, remedy, or jurisdiction over that right.

Abortion, Constitutional, Courts, Legislation, Reproductive Rights | Permalink


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