SCOTUS Opinion: Narrow Majority Strikes Down Louisiana Abortion Law

The Louisiana law at issue in June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo was practically identical to the Texas law the Court struck down in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 579 U.S. ___ (2016), which required abortion providers to hold active admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform abortions. Since that time, however, one member of the prior case’s majority, Justice Kennedy, had been replaced by Justice Kavanaugh. In this case, the district court held that the Louisiana law was unconstitutional under Whole Women’s Health, and found that the evidence supported the conclusion that the Louisiana law similarly imposed an “undue burden” on the right to an abortion. The Fifth Circuit reversed, disputing the district court’s interpretation of the evidence of undue burden.

The Court, in a 5-4 decision, reversed and struck down the law. Justice Breyer, for a 4-justice plurality, first determined that the petitioning health care providers had standing to raise the challenge, and Louisiana acted too late to challenge standing. The plurality next held that the Fifth Circuit failed to give proper deference to the district court’s factual findings, and that the evidence properly supported the conclusion that the Louisiana law caused the same unconstitutional undue burden that the Texas law did. Chief Justice Roberts, who dissented in Whole Women’s Health, provided the fifth vote on the sole basis that even though he still thought the prior case was wrongly decided, the doctrine of stare decisis required the same result.

Justice Thomas dissented, arguing that the abortion providers lacked standing to challenge the law, and that the right to an abortion lacked any constitutional basis. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Gorsuch in full and Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh in part, dissented, arguing that the plurality applied the wrong standard of review, and that the Chief Justice misapplied the doctrine of stare decisis. Justice Gorsuch also lodged a dissent, arguing that the majority sidestepped several established legal doctrines and mis-applied the rule in Whole Women’s Health to reach its conclusion. And finally, Justice Kavanaugh filed a dissent arguing that more fact-finding was needed before the law could be properly assessed.

A link to the opinion is here: