January 4, 2020
On March 4, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in one of the biggest cases of the new year: the challenge to the constitutionality of a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have the right to admit patients at a nearby hospital. Four years ago, the justices struck down a similar law from Texas, by a vote of 5-3. But the court has changed since then: Justice Anthony Kennedy, who joined his more liberal colleagues in voting to invalidate the Texas law, retired in 2018 and was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, while Justice Neil Gorsuch filled the empty seat created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Last year it was Chief Justice John Roberts, a dissenter in 2016, who provided the fifth vote to temporarily block Louisiana from enforcing the law. In their brief on the merits, the abortion providers challenging the Louisiana law portray the case as simple: Because the Louisiana admitting-privileges requirement is “materially indistinguishable” from the Texas law that the court deemed unconstitutional in 2016, it too must be struck down.
On Thursday, the federal government weighed in, in a “friend of the court” brief in which it urged the justices either to throw the case out or, alternatively, to allow the admitting-privileges requirement to stand. And if necessary, the federal government told the justices, the Supreme Court should overrule its 2016 decision in the Texas case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which the federal government had argued in support of the abortion providers.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Irrespective of your views on abortion (or any matters that may come before the Supreme Court), the single-most important issue in a Presidential election is judicial appointments. A Presidential term is four years. A federal judge serves for life.