It’s been a strange Supreme Court term, like a meal that doesn’t satisfy. With only eight members on the bench after Justice Scalia’s death the odds were good that the last blockbuster opinion of the term would fall to a tie.
But, once again, Justice Kennedy was the fulcrum that allowed the Court to do some heavy lifting. In a 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Breyer in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt the lie was exposed that Texas’ restrictive abortion clinic regulations were enacted to protect women’s health.
That left the dissenters arguing only on procedural grounds that Whole Woman’s Health had lost an earlier round and should never have got another bite of the apple.
Oh, and there was also the unanimous opinion in McDonnell v. United States. It’s perfectly okay now, through gifts and cash, to purchase access to politicians, even if it stinks.
It’s been ten years since the Court last heard arguments on abortion, coincidentally the same amount of time Justice Thomas maintained his silence during arguments until he asked several questions from the bench earlier this week. Dashing some expectations he posed no questions during today’s argument.
Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is an appeal of a Texas law that places requirements on abortion clinics so excessive that many are forced to close. Much has been written about the case so I’ll just post my sketches and point the reader to Lyle Denniston’s post on SCOTUSblog.
Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate magazine, coined the term “faux-nanimous” for the kind of unanimous decisions the Supreme Court delivered today where concurring opinions read more like dissents. Read her article, you’ll like it. And I’ll just go ahead and post my pictures.
UPDATE: Another great article on the “faux-nanimous” opinions, this time from professor Garret Epps for The Atlantic
Supporters lined up behind the owners of two family owned businesses, Anthony Hahn, second from right, and Dave Green, far right, on the lower level of the Supreme Court building this morning. They were waiting to hear arguments in two cases concerning Obamacare’s required contraceptive coverage by for-profit employers. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities both embrace Christian principles that cause them to object to forms of contraception that they believe are tantamount to abortion.
It’s been a long day of lively arguments, lots of drawings, and even a little bit of snow, so forgive me if I forgo further comments and simply post the day’s sketches. There are links at the bottom to reporting on the arguments.
Lyle Denniston’s argument recap here.
NYT story here.
WaPo story here.
And a must-read from Dahlia Lithwick here.
. . . and the considerably larger Supreme Court chamber.A challenge to the Massachusetts law creating a 35 foot buffer zone around the entrance to abortion clinics, McCullen v. Coakley, was argued before the Supreme Court today. The last time the Court visited this issue was in 2000 when it approve a protective “bubble” for anyone entering a clinic. Catholic University law professor Mark L. Rienzi, pictured above, argued for the 77 year-old grandmother, Eleanor McCullen, who has stood outside a Boston Planned Parenthood clinic a couple days a week for the past ten years, or so.
Justice Scalia repeatedly made the point that “it’s a counseling case . . . not a protest case”, and that 35 feet was too far to hold a conversation. Justice Kagan seemed to agree when she said to Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Miller, “. . it’s more than a few feet. You know, 35 feet is a ways. It’s from this bench to the end of the court.” At this several in the courtroom started to scratch their heads. According to the visitor’s guide the courtroom measures 82 by 91 feet.
Lyle has the story here.
I got a last minute call to go to Philadelphia to sketch the sentencing of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell – a case I have not followed and therefore am thankfully unable to comment on – so I hit the road at 5:00 a.m. Arriving early I had a few minutes to do the sketch above before the courthouse openned.
After waiting several hours in the courtroom, sketching some of the evidence collected from Dr. Gosnell’s, the sentencing itself was very brief.
You can read about it here.
In an opinion by Justice Kennedy (on the left in sketch) the Supreme Court today upheld the federal ban on certain late-term, so-called “partial birth”, abortions. Justice Ginsberg (right) read her dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer.
Washington Post story here.
Lyle Denniston has an in depth post on ScotusBlog here.
The Supreme Court today heard arguments in two cases challenging the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.