Trump Era's First Huge Abortion Case Comes Down to Roberts

The chief justice will likely cast the deciding vote
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 4, 2020 12:20 PM CST
Roberts the Linchpin in Trump Era's First Huge Abortion Case
Abortion rights demonstrators rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 4, 2020.   (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The Supreme Court appeared divided in its first major abortion case of the Trump era, leaving Chief Justice John Roberts as the likely deciding vote. Roberts did not say enough to tip his hand in an hour of spirited arguments Wednesday. The justices are weighing a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. A federal judge found that just one of Louisiana's three abortion clinics would remain open if the law is allowed to take effect. The federal appeals court in New Orleans, though, upheld the law, setting up the Supreme Court case. The AP reports Justice Elena Kagan, reflecting the view of her liberal colleagues, noted that a clinic in Shreveport reported transferring just four patients to a hospital out of roughly 70,000 it has treated over 23 years.

"I don't know a medical procedure where it's lower than that," Kagan said. Justice Samuel Alito said the clinic had once had its license suspended, in 2010. Perhaps the biggest question is whether the court will overrule a 2016 decision in which it struck down a similar law in Texas. Since then, Donald Trump was elected president and appointed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who have shifted the court to the right. Even with those additions to the court, Roberts almost certainly holds the deciding vote. When the justices temporarily blocked the Louisiana law from taking effect a year ago, Roberts joined the court's four liberal justices to put it on hold. In more than 14 years as chief justice, Roberts has generally voted to uphold abortion restrictions, including in the Texas case four years ago. A decision is expected by late June. (Read more on the case here.)

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