Abortion and the Votes on the Supreme Court

The Story:

The US Supreme Court, on February 7, 2019, granted a request from the managers of an abortion clinic to block the execution of a Louisiana law. The law is one that would require any doctor performing abortions to have “admitting privileges” at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where the abortions are performed.

Partisan Line-Up:

The case is called June Medical Services v. Gee. Five Justices, a majority of the court, voted to block the abortion-limiting law. The five were: Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and … Chief Justice John Roberts. There were four dissenters: Associate Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas.

Roberts is the surprise in that line-up. For the others, their votes here are predictable from knowledge of the politics of their appointing President. The four ‘anti-abortion’ votes came from Justices appointed by President Donald Trump or by one or the other of the two Presidents named George Bush. Four of the five ‘pro-abortion rights’ votes that stayed the Louisiana law came from Justices appointed by either Barack Obama or Bill Clinton.

The Thing to Know:

The surprising vote in the above line-up, though, was that of the Chief Justice himself, John Roberts. He was an appointee of President George W. Bush, with a reputation for conservative jurisprudence. That he has, at least in this preliminary stage (the Supreme Court has not yet heard the underlying case on the merits) broken with the ‘conservative’ view and joined with the Court’s ‘liberals’ is a fact worth filing away, even though there is room for disagreement on how much it means.

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