Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has issued a warning about the court’s conservative majority’s eagerness to overturn decades-old precedents as fears grow over the state of abortion rights across the US.
Justice Breyer, one of the court’s four liberals, appeared to sound the alarm within a dissent to a 5-4 decision to reverse a 1970s ruling on state sovereignty.
“Today’s decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the Court will overrule next,” Mr Breyer said, after quoting the 1992 decision of Planned Parenthood v Casey. The dissent was in a case regarding the question of whether a state can unwillingly face a private lawsuit in another states court. The latest ruling said that states cannot be sued in such cases, overturning the previous precedent from 1979. All four liberal judges dissented, ending ending a long-running dispute between California officials and Nevada inventor Gilbert Hyatt.
However, Mr Breyer’s remark was widely interpreted as a warning about the status of Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling enshrining the constitutional right to abortion. The fact that Mr Beyer also referenced a 1992 case that upheld that decision only re-enforced that view for many.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin tweeted: “English translation of Justice Breyer’s dissent today in Hyatt: ‘Roe v. Wade is doomed.’ #SCOTUS”
Many conservatives, including the Christian evangelists that helped push Donald Trump to the White House, have been hoping for a move against Roe v Wade, particularly given that Mr Trump has been able to install a right-leaning majority on the court during his two years in office.
First Mr Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the highest court in the land, while Justice Anthony Kennedy was also later replaced with Justice Brett Kavanaugh in a much more contentious nomination last year. Judge Kennedy had been sympathetic to the issue of abortion rights at points during his career.
A number of abortion cases could be up for review by the Supreme Court this year, while some states have also pushed to sign into law new restrictive abortion laws in recent weeks.
The latest is the controversial “heartbeat” abortion law in Georgia, which bans abortions in most cases as soon as a heartbeat is detectable by a doctor – which happens about six weeks into a pregnancy. This marks a big reduction in the time available to decide to get an abortion, with the law dropping from the current 20 weeks on 1 January 2020.
However, the law will face challenges in federal court, and could make it to the Supreme Court. A federal judge blocked a similar law in Kentucky which was scheduled to come into effect immediately as it could be unconstitutional. Mississippi passed a six-week abortion law in March that is not due to take effect until July and is also facing challenges.
Ohio passed a similar law restricting abortions in 2016 which was vetoed by the governor.
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