In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court opinion that Louisiana’s Act 620, which imposed restrictions on abortion providers, was unconstitutional because of the exceptional burden it placed upon a woman’s free exercise of her individual rights.
The result was similar to a challenge issued to a Texas law upon which the Louisiana law was modeled. In that case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a decision was rendered against the state’s attempts to restrict abortion.
The laws had been inspired by the case of Kermit Gosnell, who had been found to have been allowed to commit gruesome acts of violence upon both children and parents due in large part to abortion providers in his area not receiving much practical oversight. When the Texas case went before the courts, the existence of current health laws and the absence of significant abuses combined to provide a rationale for rejecting the new law. At the time, however, the ideological makeup of the Court was different.
Chief Justice Roberts dissented in the Texas case, arguing that the law should be upheld. In today’s decision, he shifted his opinion, standing with Breyer, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Kagan to strike down the Louisiana law. Unlike those four, Roberts’ decision did not agree with the plaintiff on the merits of the case, but he did find that the principle of stare decisis held, in that the case was effectively retrying litigation which had been recently and comprehensively reviewed.
By granting special consideration to prior decisions, Roberts has signaled that he is not in favor of simply changing the seating of the Justices to seek a new court result when cases are contentious. As that has been a key rationale given by activists for the importance of getting new Justices onto the bench, it deals a blow to those who favor politicizing the judiciary.