The importance of precedent and the rule of law is a theme in the 27 “friend of the court” briefs supporting the plaintiffs in June Medical Services v. Gee, a challenge to a Louisiana abortion restriction that would leave a single physician able to provide abortions in the entire state. The case is brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Louisiana abortion providers. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 4.
The disputed Louisiana law, Act 620, prevents doctors from providing abortion care in the state unless they have secured admitting privileges at a local hospital. The law is identical to a Texas law the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in the Center’s 2016 case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals flouted the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health to uphold the Louisiana restriction. The outcome of the Louisiana case is expected to shape the future of abortion rights across the country.
Three briefs in particular argue that irrespective of support for abortion rights, rule of law principles require lower courts and the Supreme Court to apply an unbroken line of precedent stretching from Roe v. Wade to Whole Woman’s Health to strike down the restriction. The briefs were submitted by the American Bar Association, constitutional law scholars, and a bipartisan group of former federal judges and Department of Justice officials. While some amici do not take a position on whether the Court’s cases recognizing and defining the constitutional right to abortion were correctly decided, they all agree that the Louisiana law is unconstitutional under binding precedent, and any decision to the contrary would undermine the rule of law.
Excerpts from the briefs:
American Bar Association: “The integrity of the American legal system depends on our lower courts applying precedent faithfully, following ‘both the words and music of Supreme Court opinions.’ It is particularly important that the lower courts hew closely to precedent when addressing politically charged issues that are the subject of intense public debate. No matter how deeply held, and morally grounded, one’s disagreement with this Court’s precedents may be, the rule of law requires that lower courts strictly apply this Court’s directives. . . “ Read the full brief here.
Constitutional Law Scholars: "Permitting lower federal courts (and by implication state courts) to circumvent those precedents of this Court with which they disagree would invite lawlessness across a wide range of subject matter areas. . . Allowing recalcitrance dressed up as factual distinctions would undercut this Court’s ability to ensure the uniformity and supremacy of federal law.” Read the full brief here.
Bipartisan Former Federal Judges and Department of Justice Officials: “Whole Woman’s Health is part of a line of precedent stretching back to Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), and Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). That line of precedent, in turn, forms part of an even larger body of precedent recognizing a private realm of family life which the state cannot enter absent special justification. A decision by this Court to reconsider Whole Woman’s Health would destabilize this entire body of law.” Read the full brief here.
Additional briefs opposing the Louisiana law were filed by major medical organizations, abortion care providers, members of Congress, state attorneys general, social and reproductive justice advocates, LGBTQ organizations, women obtaining abortion care, and many others. Click here to access all 27 amicus briefs.