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  Supreme Court - Legal News


The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously preserved access to a medication that was used in nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the U.S. last year, in the court’s first abortion decision since conservative justices overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago.

The nine justices ruled that abortion opponents lacked the legal right to sue over the federal Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the medication, mifepristone, and the FDA’s subsequent actions to ease access to it. The case had threatened to restrict access to mifepristone across the country, including in states where abortion remains legal.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was part of the majority to overturn Roe, wrote for the court on Thursday that “federal courts are the wrong forum for addressing the plaintiffs’ concerns about FDA’s actions.”

The decision could lessen the intensity of the abortion issue in the November elections, with Democrats already energized and voting against restrictions on reproductive rights. But the high court is separately considering another abortion case, about whether a federal law on emergency treatment at hospitals overrides state abortion bans in rare emergency cases in which a pregnant patient’s health is at serious risk.

More than 6 million people have used mifepristone since 2000. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone and primes the uterus to respond to the contraction-causing effect of a second drug, misoprostol. The two-drug regimen has been used to end a pregnancy through 10 weeks gestation.

Health care providers have said that if mifepristone is no longer available or is too hard to obtain, they would switch to using only misoprostol, which is somewhat less effective in ending pregnancies.

President Joe Biden’s administration and drug manufacturers had warned that siding with abortion opponents in this case could undermine the FDA’s drug approval process beyond the abortion context by inviting judges to second-guess the agency’s scientific judgments. The Democratic administration and New York-based Danco Laboratories, which makes mifepristone, argued that the drug is among the safest the FDA has ever approved.

The decision “safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use,” Danco spokeswoman Abigail Long said in a statement.

The plaintiffs in the mifepristone case, anti-abortion doctors and their organizations, argued in court papers that the FDA’s decisions in 2016 and 2021 to relax restrictions on getting the drug were unreasonable and “jeopardize women’s health across the nation.”

Kavanaugh acknowledged what he described as the opponents’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections to elective abortion and to FDA’s relaxed regulation of mifepristone.”

Federal laws already protect doctors from having to perform abortions, or give any other treatment that goes against their beliefs, Kavanaugh wrote. “The plaintiffs have not identified any instances where a doctor was required, notwithstanding conscience objections, to perform an abortion or to provide other abortion-related treatment that violated the doctor’s conscience since mifepristone’s 2000 approval,” he wrote.

In the end, Kavanaugh wrote, the anti-abortion doctors went to the wrong forum and should instead direct their energies to persuading lawmakers and regulators to make changes.

Those comments pointed to the stakes of the 2024 election and the possibility that an FDA commissioner appointed by Republican Donald Trump, if he wins the White House, could consider tightening access to mifepristone.

The mifepristone case began five months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Abortion opponents initially won a sweeping ruling nearly a year ago from U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump nominee in Texas, which would have revoked the drug’s approval entirely. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left intact the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone. But it would reverse changes regulators made in 2016 and 2021 that eased some conditions for administering the drug.

The Supreme Court put the appeals court’s modified ruling on hold, then agreed to hear the case, though Justices Samuel Alito, the author of the decision overturning Roe, and Clarence Thomas would have allowed some restrictions to take effect while the case proceeded. But they, too, joined the court’s opinion Thursday.


The Supreme Court is headed into its final few weeks with nearly half of the cases heard this year still undecided, including ones that could reshape the law on everything from guns to abortion to social media. The justices are also still weighing whether former President Donald Trump is immune from criminal prosecution in the election interference case against him, more than a month after hearing arguments.

The court heard 61 cases this term, and 29 remain unresolved, with some decisions expected Thursday and Friday.

Here’s a look at some of the major undecided cases:

Presidential immunity

Donald Trump is arguing that former presidents are immune from prosecution for official acts they took in office and that the indictment he faces on charges of election interference must be dismissed.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that former presidents can’t be sued in civil cases for what they did in office, but it has never weighed in on criminal immunity. The timing of the decision may be as important as the outcome. Trump’s trial in Washington, D.C., may not take place before the November election, even if the court rules he is not immune.

A former Pennsylvania police officer is challenging the validity of obstruction charges brought against hundreds of people who took part in the violent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump faces the same charge of obstructing an official proceeding.

The issue is whether a law meant to discourage tampering with documents sought in investigations can be used against the Capitol rioters.

Abortion pill

Abortion opponents are trying to make it harder for pregnant women to obtain medication abortions. They want the Supreme Court to roll back changes made by the FDA that have made it easier to obtain mifepristone, one of the two drugs used in nearly two-thirds of abortions in the United States last year. Those include eliminating the need for in-person visits and allowing the drug to be mailed.

Most Republican-led states have severely restricted or banned abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. The high court’s decision in this case will affect abortion even in states where it remains legal.
Emergency abortion

There’s a second abortion case on the docket this year: whether doctors can provide that medical procedure in emergencies in states that banned abortion after the court overturned Roe v. Wade.

In a case out of Idaho, the Biden administration says abortions must be allowed in emergencies where a woman’s health is at serious risk.

The state argues that its strict abortion ban does allow abortions to save a woman’s life, and doesn’t need to expand exceptions for health risks.

Guns

The justices are weighing whether to uphold a federal law that seeks to protect domestic violence victims by keeping guns away from the people alleged to have abused them. An appeals court struck down a law that prohibits people under domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms. That court found that the law violated the 2nd Amendment right to “keep and bear arms” following the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling that expanded gun rights and changed how courts are supposed to evaluate gun restrictions.

Homelessness

The most significant Supreme Court case in decades on homelessness centers on whether people can be banned from sleeping outdoors when shelter space is lacking.

A San Francisco-based appeals court decision said that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Leaders from California and across the West say that the ruling makes it harder for them to regulate homeless encampments encroaching on sidewalks and other public places.

Advocates say it would criminalize homelessness just as rising costs have pushed the number of people without a permanent place to live to record levels.
Bump stocks

The Trump administration banned bump stocks, a gun accessory that allows rapid fire like a machine gun, after they were used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The ban is being challenged by a Texas gun shop owner who says the Justice Department was wrong to reverse course and declare them illegal machine guns after the 2017 Las Vegas massacre. The Biden administration argues banning them after the shooting that left 60 people dead was the right call.

Chevron

The justices could overturn a 40-year-old decision that has been cited thousands of times in federal court cases and used to uphold regulations on the environment, public health, workplace safety and consumer protections. The decision colloquially known as Chevron calls on judges to defer to federal regulators when the words of a statute are not crystal clear. The decision has long been targeted by conservative and business interests who say Chevron robs judges of their authority and gives too much power to regulators.

Air pollution

Republican-led, energy-producing states and the steel industry want the court to put the Environmental Protection Agency’s air pollution-fighting “good neighbor” plan on hold while legal challenges continue. The plan aims to protect downwind states that receive unwanted air pollution from other states.

SEC

Another important regulatory case could strip the SEC of a major tool in fighting securities fraud and have far-reaching effects on other regulatory agencies. The court is being asked to rule that people facing civil fraud complaints have the right to a jury trial in federal court.


South Carolina is about to trade its all-male state Supreme court for an all-white one.

The General Assembly, which picks almost all state judges, is expected Wednesday to elevate Court of Appeals Judge Letitia Verdin to the high court. The white woman will take the seat of Chief Justice Don Beatty, who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 72. Beatty is Black.

Verdin is the only candidate left after two others dropped out when they realized they couldn’t get enough votes in the 170-seat Legislature. One candidate was a Black woman and the other was a white man.

“She will be an excellent Supreme Court justice. I’m glad we now have that diversity present,” said Sen. Tameika Isaac Devine, an African American Democrat who was a law school classmate of Verdin. “But we shouldn’t trade diversity. We need to take a look across the court system.”

Over the past 17 years — and all but seven years since 1984 — South Carolina has had a Black judge on its highest court. Either a woman or a Black man has been chief justice for all but one of the past 30 years.

Ernest Finney became the state’s first African American circuit judge since Reconstruction in 1976. Eight years later, civil rights leaders hailed his ascension to the state Supreme Court.

It showed Black people have a presence at every level of the state court system, even if sometimes Finney was invited to speak in his role as a justice at private clubs that refused to admit African Americans.

“Not only did he do the job excellently, he elevated the reputation of the court system,” said attorney I.S. Leevy Johnson, who became the first Black House member since Reconstruction in 1971 and went on to become the first Black leader of the South Carolina Bar the same year Finney joined the Supreme Court.

“He gave confidence in the system to people of color who historically — since well before Dred Scott — have had no need to feel any confidence,” Johnson added, referencing the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision that declared African Americans could not be citizens.

A number of Black lawyers followed Finney’s path. They, too, have been reaching retirement age. Just 13% of the judges in the trial and appellate courts are Black in a state where 27% of the population is Black. Just one judge of color, a Black man, is on the nine-judge state Court of Appeals, which is often the training ground for the Supreme Court.


The Texas Supreme Court on Friday rejected a challenge to one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S. following a lawsuit by women who had serious pregnancy complications.

The ruling from the court, whose nine justices are all elected Republicans, is the latest decision to uphold Texas’ abortion ban, which critics say does not offer enough clarity over when exceptions are allowed.

“Texas law permits a life-saving abortion,” the court wrote in the order signed by Republican Justice Jane Bland.

Last summer, state District Judge Jessica Mangrum had granted a temporary injunction preventing Texas from enforcing the ban against doctors who in their “good faith judgment” ended a pregnancy that they determined was unsafe because of complications. But that was immediately blocked by an appeal from the Texas attorney general’s office to the state’s Supreme Court.

The lawsuit filed in March 2023 didn’t seek to repeal Texas’ abortion ban, but instead aimed to force more clarity on when exceptions are allowed.

It argued that exemptions under the law, which allow an abortion to save a mother’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function, are written too vaguely and create confusion among doctors, who were turning away some pregnant women experiencing health complications because they feared repercussions.

The plaintiffs said the abortion ban has made medical professionals wary of facing liability if the state does not consider the situation a medical emergency.

But the Texas Supreme Court also declined to offer clarity on the exemptions late last year after Kate Cox, a mother of two from Dallas, sued the state for the right to obtain an abortion after her fetus developed a fatal condition and she made multiple trips to an emergency room. Cox ended up leaving the state for an abortion before the court ruled that she hadn’t shown her life was in danger. The court called on the state medical board to offer more guidance.

The medical board’s proposed guidelines, unveiled earlier this year, offered little beyond advising doctors to meticulously document their decision-making. And Texas’ Republican-led Legislature is not expected to make any changes to the law’s language.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Amanda Zurawski, had been told that she had a condition that meant her baby would not survive. But the Austin woman was forced to wait until she was diagnosed with a life-threatening case of sepsis before being provided an abortion. Zurawski spent three days in intensive care and was left with a permanently closed fallopian tube from the infection, which affects her ability to have more children.

Under the law in Texas, doctors who perform abortions risk life in prison, fines of up to $100,000 and revocation of their state medical licenses. Opponents say that has left some women with providers who are unwilling to even discuss terminating a pregnancy.

Most Republican-controlled states have started enforcing new bans or restrictions on abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 overturned Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years had affirmed the constitutional right to an abortion.


The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a conservative-led attack that could have undermined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The justices ruled 7-2 that the way the CFPB is funded does not violate the Constitution, reversing a lower court and drawing praises from consumers. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, splitting with his frequent allies, Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, who dissented.

The CFPB was created after the 2008 financial crisis to regulate mortgages, car loans and other consumer finance. The case was brought by payday lenders who object to a bureau rule that limits their ability to withdraw funds directly from borrowers’ bank accounts. It’s among several major challenges to federal regulatory agencies on the docket this term for a court that has for more than a decade been open to limits on their operations.

The CFPB, the brainchild of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, has long been opposed by Republicans and their financial backers. The bureau says it has returned $19 billion to consumers since its creation.

Outside the Supreme Court following the decision, Warren said, “The Supreme Court followed the law, and the CFPB is here to stay.”

President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat who has taken steps to strengthen the bureau, called the ruling “an unmistakable win for American consumers.”

Unlike most federal agencies, the consumer bureau does not rely on the annual budget process in Congress. Instead, it is funded directly by the Federal Reserve, with a current annual limit of around $600 million.

The federal appeals court in New Orleans, in a novel ruling, held that the funding violated the Constitution’s appropriations clause because it improperly shields the CFPB from congressional supervision.


The state Supreme Court announced Friday that it will decide whether mobile voting sites are legal without allowing any lower appellate courts to rule first.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm, sued in December 2022 on behalf of Racine County Republican Party Chair Ken Brown, alleging Racine city officials illegally used a voting van to collect absentee ballots that year. A circuit judge ruled in January that state law doesn’t allow mobile voting sites to operate.

Racine City Clerk Tara McMenamin and the Democratic National Committee asked the state Supreme Court in February to review the case without letting any lower appellate courts rule on it first.

Justice Janet Protasiewicz’s election win in 2023 gave liberals a 4-3 majority on the court, increasing the likelihood of a reversal. Brown filed a motion in March asking Protasiewicz to recuse herself from the case but she declined.

The justices issued an order Friday afternoon indicating they had voted 4-3 to take the case. All three conservative justices dissented. Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, a member of the conservative block, wrote that the case hasn’t been fully briefed and the liberal justices are trying to help Democrats make political gains ahead of the November elections.


Supreme Court arguments have begun over whether former President Donald Trump can avoid prosecution over his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

The justices on Thursday took up for the first time whether a former president has absolute immunity from criminal charges for actions he took while in office, as Trump claims. He is the first former president to be charged with crimes.

Trump had said he wanted to be at the Supreme Court on Thursday. Instead, he was in a courtroom in New York, where he is standing trial on charges that he falsified business records to keep damaging information from voters when he directed hush money payments to a former porn star to keep quiet her claims that they had a sexual encounter.

The timing of the Supreme Court’s decision could be as important as the outcome. Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee, has been pushing to delay the trial until after the November election, and the later the justices issue their decision, the more likely he is to succeed.

Special counsel Jack Smith’s team is asking for a speedy resolution. The court typically issues its last opinions by the end of June, about four months before the election.

Trump’s lawyers argue that former presidents are entitled to absolute immunity for their official acts. Otherwise, they say, politically motivated prosecutions of former occupants of the Oval Office would become routine and presidents couldn’t function as the commander in chief if they had to worry about criminal charges.

Lower courts have rejected those arguments, including a unanimous three-judge panel on an appeals court in Washington, D.C.

The election interference conspiracy case brought by Smith in Washington is just one of four criminal cases confronting Trump.

Smith’s team says the men who wrote Constitution never intended for presidents to be above the law and that, in any event, the acts Trump is charged with — including participating in a scheme to enlist fake electors in battleground states won by Biden — aren’t in any way part of a president’s official duties.

Nearly four years ago, all nine justices rejected Trump’s claim of absolute immunity from a district attorney’s subpoena for his financial records. That case played out during Trump’s presidency and involved a criminal investigation, but no charges.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who would have prevented the enforcement of the subpoena because of Trump’s responsibilities as president, still rejected Trump’s claim of absolute immunity and pointed to the text of the Constitution and how it was understood by the people who ratified it.

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