Roe v. Wade

  • September 20, 2013

    by Lara Schwartz

    Every high school history student learns that since Marbury v. Madison, the courts “say what the law is.”  However, when we vote we choose those who choose our judges, which means We the People play a role in saying what the law is. Americans recognize that judges and justices approach the law from different perspectives and that their approaches affect the outcomes of cases we care about. Presidential candidates make promises about what kinds of judges they will appoint for a reason: because it matters. But what do the American people expect from our judiciary?

    We’re often told Americans want a “conservative” Court and that they are sympathetic to originalism. A poll taken after Justice Stevens announced his retirement indicated that more Americans (42 percent) wanted a new justice who would make the Court more conservative than those who wanted to see the Court become more liberal (27 percent). Some surveys hint that Americans’ views on constitutional interpretation are sharply divided: a Pew Survey found that half of Americans (50 percent) say the Court’s rulings should be based on its understanding of what the U.S. Constitution means in current times, while about as many (45 percent) say rulings should be based on its understanding of what the Constitution meant as originally written. Yet although voters might find the term “conservative” and the idea of “as originally written” appealing in principle, they don’t agree with what the conservative justices do in practice.

    Americans overwhelmingly support upholding Roe v. Wade, which has become conservative shorthand for a liberal, activist Court.  Even Roe’s supporters don’t tend to call it conservative or claim it exemplifies originalist constitutional interpretation, yet only 29 percent of Americans believe that Roe should be overturned, which is fewer than the 43 percent who believe abortion is “morally wrong.”    

    Most Americans also agree with the Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, which struck down the section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that denied same-sex couples federal benefits. This places them at odds with the Court’s conservative bloc. By contrast, 33 percent approve of the Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, compared with 51 percent who disapprove. 

  • June 13, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Adam Winkler, Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

    June is every Supreme Court watcher's favorite time of year. There are always several important, potentially landmark, rulings to be handed down. This year, there are four major cases sure to make headlines: Fisher v. University of Texas on the constitutionality of race-based admission preferences; Shelby County v. Holder on the continued viability of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act; U.S. v. Windsor on the Defense of Marriage Act; and Hollingsworth v. Perry on California's ban on same-sex marriage. While no one knows exactly how the Court will rule on these controversies -- and last term's Obamacare decision reminds us that surprises are always possible -- there seems to be a good chance they will follow a distinctive pattern.

    The conservative justices will be bold and assertive, while the liberal justices will be hesitant and incremental.

    Instead of constrained, the conservative justices appear ready to declare an end to a half-century of law providing benefits for racial minorities who've suffered a long history of discrimination. In the Voting Rights Act case, the five most conservative justices on the Court -- Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito -- signaled their willingness to strike down or effectively nullify one of the most important and effective civil rights laws ever enacted. While other parts of the Voting Rights Act will remain intact, voiding Section 5, which requires pre-clearance of changes to voting rules by jurisdictions with a documented history of racial discrimination in voting, will be a severe blow to civil rights. Section 5 is a valuable prophylactic rule that does far more to prevent discrimination than the VRA's other central provision, Section 2, which directly outlaws discriminatory voting practices. Section 2 is an ex-post remedy and requires the challenger to satisfy a difficult burden of proof to win. Section 5 stopped the discrimination before it could occur. While the conservative wing of the Court may stop short of invalidating Section 5 entirely, they might just declare unconstitutional the formula used to determine which jurisdictions are covered. That would seem to be a narrow, incremental ruling but it would have the same practical result as invalidating Section 5. Given the growingly fierce GOP opposition to Section 5 and the general inability of Congress to pass anything of significance, there's almost no chance Congress will adopt a new formula.  Section 5 might remain "on the books" but it would be essentially a dead-letter.

  • April 3, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Even before the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in two cases dealing with government discrimination of gay couples who want to get married, a growing chorus of legal scholars and others urged the high court to move slowly. Because, according to these folks, if the justices declare that lesbians and gay men have a constitutionally protected right to wed, a backlash against the marriage equality movement could be unleashed.

    And proof for such a backlash centers on the high court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion, which found that the right of privacy includes the right of women to make their own decisions on abortion. According to proponents of moving slowly on marriage equality, Roe sparked a backlash against growing support of abortion and now we have state after state trying to trample the fundamental right. Therefore the backlash proponents argue that the justices should learn from Roe and avoid handing down a ruling that would end government discrimination against gay couples seeking to wed. This backlash story has been fueled in part by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who while defending the Roe decision, said the Court moved to fast.

    But as an editorial in The New York Times notes, the backlash proponents are basing their argument on a “false reading of politics before and after Roe v. Wade ….” The editorial cites the work of ACS Board Members Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel, both teach at Yale Law School, documenting the fact that the fevered opposition to reproductive rights was forming long before the high court handed down Roe.

    In a 2010 interview with ACSblog, highlighting their Before Roe v. Wade book, Greenhouse and Siegel said the documentation they collected for the book showed “that, contrary to the commonly expressed view that it was the Supreme Court and its decision that unleashed a ‘backlash’ against abortion reform, a vigorous counter-movement was forming well before Roe. In the late 1960s, as public support for liberalization surged, the Catholic Church helped organized an anti-abortion movement to oppose liberalization in every state legislature and court considering abortion laws. Strategists for President Nixon’s 1972 re-election then decided to denounce ‘permissive’ abortion laws to attract Catholics from their longtime affiliation with the Democratic Party and court the support of a ‘silent majority.’”

     

  • March 29, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Tea Party activists and many of today’s Republican politicians claim to loathe big government. They say they want a limited government role in our lives. But when it comes to the autonomy of women or privacy rights of gay couples, many of those same activists and politicians clamor for government interference.

    A few weeks after Arkansas lawmakers adopted one of the nation’s most restrictive measures on abortions, banning them at 12 weeks of pregnancy; North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law an even more outlandish attack on abortion. The law forbids abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, as The New York Times reported earlier this week. Fetal heartbeats, the newspaper noted can be detected “as early as six weeks” by using an invasive procedure, a transvaginal ultrasound.

    In his statement announcing signing of the bill, HB 1456, into law, Gov. Dalrymple said “the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question,” but it is nevertheless “a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.”

    Discovering the boundaries of Roe is a euphemism for lawmakers’ efforts to topple the landmark Supreme Court opinion. State lawmakers have been on a tear over the last few years passing measures aimed at making it incredibly difficult for women to obtain abortions, especially for women with little means to travel long distances to find a physician willing and able to perform abortions. It is not enough that lawmakers have crafted laws that force women to listen to government propaganda about the alleged dangers of abortions or undergo invasive medical procedures; they want the ability to bar women from receiving abortions.

    In Roe, the high court held that the Constitution’s protections of privacy include the decision to have an abortion. The Roe Court only said that states could regulate that right at the point of viability, about 24 weeks.

  • March 22, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Eric J. Segall, Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law. Professor Segall is author of Supreme Myths: Why the Supreme Court is not a Court and its Justices are not Judges. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor.

    Progressives and liberals in favor of same sex marriage need to be careful what they wish for when the Court decides the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 cases later this term. It would be easy to argue that the Court should overturn DOMA and invalidate Proposition 8 on the grounds that governmental classifications based on sexual orientation require heightened scrutiny, and neither California nor the federal government can satisfy that standard. The problem with the Court imposing a national rule, however, may be a serious backlash against the decision resulting in long term pain for everyone on the left. The lessons of Roe v. Wade might be instructive.

    In the years preceding Roe, there was a popular momentum flowing through the states to make the right to choose a bit easier but legislative efforts to secure the right were blocked by the efforts of a strong and well-funded Catholic minority. There is a similar momentum now (albeit only recently) on the issue of same-sex marriage. The Court’s decision in Roe, however, not only slowed the momentum but created a significant backlash though not in the traditional way most people think. In ground breaking work, Professors Reva Siegel and Linda Greenhouse have suggested that, when it comes to the right to choose, women truly are better off today than they would have been without Roe, and that the case for backlash after Roe is overstated. They may be right when it comes to the right to choose, but they did not purport to ask another related but equally important question. Although the backlash on abortion specifically may be overstated, the use of the Court’s decision in Roe by right wing groups on issues other than abortion has been a major problem for the left. The rise of the New Right in the 1970’s led by Jerry Falwell and Phyllis Schaffly, the emergence of brash, young,  and conservative anti-choice republicans  and judges in the 1980’s, and the difficulty of confirming liberal judges in the Senate, can in significant part be traced to the criticism of the Court’s decision in Roe. As Cass Sunstein has argued, the rise of the Moral Majority was certainly assisted by opposition to Roe. Meanwhile, as far as the long-term effectiveness of Roe is concerned, not only does the case currently hang by the thread of Justice Kennedy’s robes, but in many states between the two coasts poor women still have an enormously difficult time securing safe, affordable abortions. This is not to say that the Court erred in Roe, but it is a fair question whether the backlash to the decision across a broad range of important issues was worth the somewhat limited abortion rights gained by the decision.