WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The Supreme Court’s new term begins Oct. 2, and on its docket will be legal challenges concerning both the First and Second Amendments, as well as potentially other related major cases.
Texas and Florida both have passed laws designed to combat what they alleged were social media companies’ content policies that disproportionately restricted conservatives through what critics called censoring, shadow-banning or de-platforming. Those laws are currently blocked from enforcement while the court considers the matter.
Among controversies over such allegations includes an effort by social media companies to reduce the spread of inaccurate information about the COVID-19 pandemic or COVID-19 vaccines.
John Bursch, senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom, told OSV News the group is interested in O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier and Lindke v. Freed, the cases concerning social media accounts.
“This is an important pair of cases for the court to get right to make sure that everybody is able to freely participate in public debate,” he said.
In United States v. Rahimi, the justices will consider a challenge to the constitutionality of a federal ban on the possession of firearms by those who are under domestic violence restraining orders.
A federal law enacted in 1994 prohibits those subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms. The case concerns Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man who was placed under a restraining order after assaulting his girlfriend in 2019 and threatening to shoot her. Rahimi later took part in crimes and was involved in five shootings, after which authorities searched his home and charged him with violating that federal ban.
But after the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, striking down part of New York’s handgun-licensing law, an appeals court threw out Rahimi’s conviction, arguing Rahimi still had the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment per that case.
The Supreme Court may also choose to take up a case concerning a challenge brought by a coalition of pro-life opponents of mifepristone, the first of two drugs used in a medication or chemical abortion. The coalition challenged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of that drug, arguing the FDA violated its own safety standards when it first authorized the drug’s use for abortion in 2000. The Justice Department and the manufacturer of mifepristone have asked the high court to take up that case.
ADF is representing the pro-life coalition in that case.
Speaking broadly on cases the group is watching, Bursch said, “the court has been very protective of free speech and free exercise rights over the last decade and a half roughly.”
He said there are “definitely more possibilities to move the law in that area and protect people’s ability to live their faith in the public square.”
Other potential cases the court may add to its docket include a federal ban on machine guns applied to bump stocks, or devices that allow semiautomatic weapons to rapidly fire multiple rounds, and school bans on students who identify as transgender using bathrooms not consistent with their biological sex.
Becket, a Washington-based religious liberty law firm, has also asked the Supreme Court to take up Vitagliano v. County of Westchester, concerning Debra Vitagliano, a Catholic sidewalk counselor challenging a New York county law prohibiting pro-life protesters from approaching people outside abortion clinics.
Her case seeks the high court to review its 2000 ruling in Hill v. Colorado, which involved a Colorado law enacted in 1993. That law regulated First Amendment activity within 100 feet of an entrance to any health care facility and prohibited approaching a person within eight feet without their consent to provide any protest materials or counseling.
“Religious liberty and free speech are central to our ability to live together in peace,” Mark Rienzi, president and CEO at Becket, said in a statement about cases the group is seeking to be considered this term. “The Court has an important role to play in protecting the First Amendment rights for people of all faiths.”
WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Prior to the first anniversary of a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its prior abortion precedent, pro-life activists lauded legislation passed in multiple states while advocating for additional support services for women and families facing unplanned pregnancies.
The Supreme Court issued its historic decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization June 24, 2022, little more than a month after Politico leaked an earlier draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion. The leak caused a public firestorm before the court issued its official ruling and is seen as the most significant breach of the court’s confidentiality in its history.
The Dobbs case involved a Missisppi law banning abortion after 15 weeks, in which the state directly challenged the high court’s previous abortion-related precedents in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The Supreme Court ultimately overturned its own prior rulings, undoing nearly a half-century of its own precedent on the issue.
Under Roe and its ensuing precedents, states were generally barred from restricting abortion prior to viability, or the point at which a child could survive outside the womb. When Roe was issued in 1973, fetal viability was considered to be 28 weeks’ gestation, but 50 years later, estimates now are generally considered to be 23-24 weeks, with some estimates as low as 22 weeks.
While supporters often described Roe as settled law, opponents argued the court in 1973 improperly legalized abortion nationwide, a matter that should have been left to legislators in Congress or state governments. Many, including the Catholic Church, also argued that abortion is murder and its legalization should be opposed on moral grounds. Opponents of the ruling challenged it for decades, both in courts and in the public square, such as the national March for Life held annually in Washington.
In a June 6 statement marking the first anniversary of Dobbs, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said, “We have much to celebrate.”
“By the grace of God, the nearly fifty-year reign of national abortion on demand has been put to an end. Roe v. Wade — a seemingly insurmountable blight on our nation — is no more!” Bishop Burbidge said. “Over the past year, while some states have acted to protect preborn children, others have tragically moved to enshrine abortion in law — enacting extreme abortion policies that leave children vulnerable to abortion, even until the moment of birth. … The work that lies ahead continues to be not just changing laws but also helping to change hearts, with steadfast faith in the power of God to do so.”
Bishop Burbidge said the “task before us begins with the knowledge of the truth and our courage to speak it and to live it with compassion,” calling for the faithful to show “radical solidarity” with women facing an unexpected or challenging pregnancy.
“In this shifting political landscape, we persist confidently in our efforts to defend life,” he said. “The work that lies ahead continues to be not just changing laws but also helping to change hearts, with steadfast faith in the power of God to do so. The task before us begins with our knowledge of the truth and our courage to speak it and to live it with compassion.”
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life organization, told OSV News the first post-Roe year has been “amazing in so many ways” in reducing abortion. Mancini said the sheer overturn of Roe itself “is a huge accomplishment.”
“I’m not sure many of us thought that would happen in our lifetime,” she said.
But, Mancini said, the year following the Dobbs decision has come with many challenges and also introduced “an element of confusion.”
In the months following Dobbs, some women in states that restricted abortion said they were denied care for miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies, or other adverse pregnancy outcomes as a result of unclear abortion legislation.
Pro-life activists said pro-life bills restricting abortion contained exceptions for such circumstances, while opponents claimed bill texts insufficiently addressed those circumstances or lacked clarity on exceptions.
Public support for legal abortion also increased after Roe was overturned, according to multiple polls conducted in the months following the Dobbs ruling.
“I think the overturning of Roe has revealed how conflicted our culture is about abortion,” Mancini said. “It shows me our work is still very much cut out for us.”
May 2023 polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 42% of U.S. adults said the Democratic Party best represents their views on abortion, while 26% said the same of the Republican Party. A substantial portion, 32%, said neither major political party best represents their views on abortion.
In the November elections following Dobbs, voters in states across the U.S. either rejected ballot measures meant to restrict abortion, or voted to codify measures protecting the procedure.
“We’ve got a long way to go towards the day abortion is unthinkable,” Mancini acknowledged.
The way forward, Mancini said, must be to “lean into this and do it with a lot of love.”
“And then also, of course, to emphasize the truth that pro-life is pro-woman, whether it’s the support of a pregnancy care center or funding support at the state level,” she said.
Since the Dobbs decision, more than 20 states have moved to ban or restrict abortion. Some states like Texas implemented a near-total ban on the procedure at any point in pregnancy, while others, such as Georgia, banned the procedure after six weeks, effectively before many women know they are pregnant and thus banning most abortions in practice. Other states, including North Carolina, have approved restrictions at later gestational points in an unborn child’s development, such as North Carolina, where a 12-week abortion ban is scheduled to go into effect in July.
Bans or other limitations are blocked pending legal challenges in South Carolina, Arizona, Indiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah and Wyoming. South Carolina’s bill, for example, would ban abortion after six weeks if it remains in effect; a judge put a temporary hold on it one day after Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law, asking the state Supreme Court to review the law. The state’s high court previously struck down similar legislation.
Meanwhile, some other states have moved to keep or expand abortion access within their borders, including Oregon, which allocated about $15 million dollars to pay for travel expenses for women who come to the state seeking abortions. California enacted legislation its Gov. Gavin Newsom said would shield patients and providers who travel from other states to perform or undergo abortions in California from laws in other states. New York enacted similar legislation.
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder and president of New Wave Feminists, told OSV News that the U.S. birth rate may be one indicator of the long-term impact of the end of Roe.
But the U.S. may already be seeing the effects of the fall of Roe without a substantial shift in the culture toward life. Abortion pills, Herndon-De La Rosa said, are representing a higher share of U.S. abortions, and their impact is still being tallied amid ongoing legal disputes.
“It can feel very defeating sometimes,” she said. “Like that scene from Jurassic Park where they say ‘life always finds a way,’ sometimes it feels like abortion will always find a way, because when a woman is is desperate and terrified and that second line shows up (on a pregnancy test), I don’t know how much laws make a difference if she feels she has no other option.”
Abortion, she said, is a matter of both supply and demand.
“What are we doing to address the demand side?” Herndon-De La Rosa asked, arguing for further increases in affordable housing and child care.
Herndon-De La Rosa said that pro-life bills also need to be crafted carefully so health providers are not discouraged from timely medical interventions to save the lives of women during pregnancy.
The bills cannot “put women’s lives at risk, intentionally or not,” she said.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats For Life of America, co-authored a policy proposal in January alongside Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, about making birth free to mothers. Day told OSV News the pro-life movement should both seek to address “the needs of women and on bringing the U.S. more in line with Europe as far as limitations on abortion,” noting many European nations limit elective abortion to the first trimester.
“I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about with the pregnancy-support side of things,” Day said, adding that states including Mississippi, the impetus for Dobbs, also expanded resources for pregnant women and new mothers in its abortion restrictions.
Day said a challenge for the pro-life movement is a negative public perception of early limitation bills, which is all the more reason for pro-lifers to “really focus on more than just the limitation.”
“It’s complicated,” Day said. “It’s complicated in part because the Supreme Court made a law (in Roe), and so we’re just trying to move the legislative duties back where they’re supposed to be.”
WASHINGTON (CNS) – In an end-of-the year decision, the Supreme Court said Dec. 27 that a federal public health rule that allows immigration officials at the border to quickly turn away migrants seeking asylum could stay in place while legal challenges to the policy played out.
In a 5-4 decision, the justices stopped a trial judge’s ruling that would have lifted the measure, known as Title 42 of the Public Health Services Act, on Dec. 21.
Chief Justice John Roberts had already put that order on pause Dec. 19 responding to an emergency request filed by 19 states asking the justices to keep Title 42 in place.
The Trump administration used the public health measure during the pandemic to allow U.S. border officials to expel migrants quickly without giving them an opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.
“Our hearts (are) broken by this decision and the many people that will be further harmed because of it,” tweeted the Interfaith Immigration Coalition Dec. 27.
They said that as people of faith, they were calling on President Joe Biden to “do everything in his power to welcome people seeking safety with the compassion they deserve.”
The justices agreed to hear arguments about enforcement of Title 42 at the border in February. In their brief unsigned order, they said the rule will remain in place for now and they will only consider whether the states challenging it have the legal right to do so.
In a dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, emphasized that the Biden administration and Congress have failed to adequately address the immigration crisis and also said the nation’s high court is not meant to issue policies.
He said he did not discount concerns raised by the state attorneys general and also acknowledged that lifting Title 42 “will likely have disruptive consequences,” but he said the reason it was enforced, as a public health measure, is no longer valid.
“The current border crisis is not a COVID crisis,” he wrote, adding that the courts “should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency. We are a court of law, not policymakers of last resort.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan indicated they would have allowed the federal judge’s ruling ending Title 42 to stand, but they did not join the dissent.
Title 42 gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the power to bar the entry of individuals into the United States to protect the public from contagious diseases.
The Biden administration initially extended the policy used by the Trump administration but in April it announced that it would end it, saying it was no longer necessary to protect public health.
A federal judge in Louisiana said the administration had not followed proper procedures in trying end Title 42 and ordered that it stay in place. The administration has appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, where it remains pending.
In a separate case, a federal judge in Washington ruled that the policy itself was illegal and ordered the government to end it, which was challenged by 19 states with Republican attorneys general.
After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the states’ request to join the case, the states came to the Supreme Court urging the court to keep the policy in place and saying that lifting it would “cause a crisis of unprecedented proportions at the border.”
Migrant families challenging the policy say the states’ support for Title 42 is not based on pandemic concerns. They also said the policy has had a devastating impact on those forced to return to “cartels and others ready to abduct and exploit them.”
Migrant advocates, including Catholic church organizations, women religious and Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration committee, have strongly supported ending Title 42.
Texas border cities, like El Paso, had been preparing for the surge of new migrants as the pandemic-era rule was scheduled to end.
In mid-December, Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute, a Catholic organization helping migrants, said constant changing policies make it hard for organizations such as his to plan.
“You have a lot of pent-up pain,” he told The Associated Press, noting that with government border policies in disarray, “the majority of the work falls to faith communities to pick up the pieces and deal with the consequences.”
In October, Bishop Seitz issued a statement expressing his disappointment that Title 42 had been expanded to Venezuelans seeking to cross the border.
“Now we must all work harder, especially the faith community, to build a culture of hospitality that respects the dignity of those who migrate, and to continue to press lawmakers and the Biden administration to establish a safe, humane, functioning and rights-respecting system to ensure protection to those in need,” he said.