Religious extremists, emboldened by lucky tactical and political successes over the past few years despite declining popular support, today won a major victory in their campaign to return women to a state of subjugation that they had only recently escaped. Supporters and allies of the religious leaders imposing the harsh new laws against women celebrated, driving around in pickup trucks while displaying traditional symbols of oppression.
Afghanistan? Iran? Saudi Arabia?
[T]he Supreme Court on Wednesday confirmed what it had previously only implied through its failure to act the night before: The court rejected a request to block enforcement of the law, which abortion providers say will bar at least 85% of abortions in the state and will likely cause many clinics to close, while a challenge to its constitutionality is litigated in the lower courts. The vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal justices – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – in dissent.
The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, had come to the court on an emergency basis on Monday, with a group of abortion providers asking the justices to intervene. It was the first major test on abortion rights for the Roberts court since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020, and Ginsburg’s replacement by the conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett was likely decisive in the outcome.
The court’s inaction on Tuesday night that allowed the Texas law to go into effect and its brief order on Wednesday night denying any relief to the abortion providers unquestionably represented a victory for abortion foes, but the five-justice majority emphasized (and Roberts in his dissent reiterated) that the court was not endorsing the constitutionality of the law. The ruling also revealed a court that is deeply divided, not only on the merits of the case but also on the procedures that the court uses to resolve these kinds of emergency appeals.
Justice Sotomayor pulled no punches:
The Court’s order is stunning. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand. Last night, the Court silently acquiesced in a State’s enactment of a law that flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents. Today, the Court belatedly explains that it declined to grant relief because of procedural complexities of the State’s own invention.
[T]he Act is a breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas.
The Court's two conservative justices (Roberts and Breyer) joined with the Court's two liberals (Kagan and Sotomayor) but could not overcome the five Republican justices demonstrating their true loyalties.
The immediate effect of the Court's shadow-docket lawmaking is that about half of all abortion services in Texas have closed as of this afternoon.