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Texas Abortion Law, and High Court Ruling On It, Remind Us That Elections Matter

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

It didn’t take much longer than a nanosecond after the Supreme Court allowed a radical Texas anti-abortion law to take effect before the social media hashtag TexanTaliban went viral.

What? Comparisons to the brutal, misogynistic Taliban? That’s more than a little extreme in itself, right? But then, so is the new Texas anti-abortion law.

The abortion measure, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbot signed into law in May, went into effect on Wednesday. Among other limits, it prohibits Texas abortions as early as six weeks, which is before most women even know they are pregnant.

Worse, it passes the law enforcement vigilante-style from the state to private citizens by providing bounties, in effect, to those who want to sue anyone who plays even a small part in aiding a woman’s ability to terminate her pregnancy.

As critics point out, this could lead to lawsuits against friends, family members, medical professionals, abortion funds, rape crisis counselors and even the taxi or ride-sharing driver who takes a woman to abortion services.

While defenders of the law play down how much it might be used to bombard abortion providers with lawsuits, a whistleblower website invites anonymous tipsters. Not surprisingly, it was immediately inundated by spammers.

 

But as a matter of judicial integrity and public confidence in the decisions of the nation’s highest court, more sweeping questions have been raised not only about the justices’ decision, but also how they allowed the Texas law to go into effect — without public deliberation or transparency.

That shortcoming was enough to ignite a Friday announcement from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat: The Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs will hold a hearing about the new law, he said, and, more broadly, the decisions made by the Supreme Court on an emergency basis, as this one was.

Durbin decried the conservative justices’ “abuse of the shadow docket,” which refers to emergency decisions that don’t follow normal procedure. Under the shadow docket, a term coined by University of Chicago law professor William Baude, it takes only an appeal to one justice who then decides whether to forward the matter to the rest of the court.

We’ve been hearing more talk about this decades-old procedure in recent times, Durbin noted, as it has been used to overturn the Biden administration’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium and reject the administration’s decision to repeal the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” immigration program, as it is informally known.

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