The Supreme Court ruled that Kentucky's Republican attorney General can take up the legal battle over an restrictive abortion law , which the state's Democratic governor has decided to withdraw from.
The court has already allowed the Texas abortion law to continue in force. It has yet to rule on a case from Mississippi that has much greater stakes and which challenges Roe v. Wade.
The case on Thursday also dealt with abortion. However, the ruling was about another question: Who can represent a country in court after a change in the political landscape?
House Bill 454, the law in question, was approved by Kentucky's legislature on August 4, 2018. It would prohibit the use of surgical abortion procedures commonly performed in the second trimester. The law was signed immediately by Republican Matt Bevin. A Louisville women's surgery center challenged the law in court.
Federal judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional. He concluded that it limited a woman's constitutional rights to an abortion after the fetus is viable. The U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit, Ohio-based, reached an agreement with the three-judge panel.
Andy Beshear (a Democrat) took control of the governor's offices. The state health official who originally defended the law did not want to continue with the investigation. The state's new attorney general, Republican Daniel Cameron asked the entire 6th Circuit for a second look at the law. He was too late to participate in the appeals court's decision.
The Supreme Court voted 8-1 to reverse the ruling, and Thursday's decision was overturned. This allowed the attorney general to take the stand to defend the law.
Justice Samuel Alito, for the majority, stated that the Sixth Circuit panel did not account for the strong interest of the Kentucky attorney General in taking up defense of HB454 when the secretary of Health and Family Services chose to acquiesce.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who dissents, stated that the majority reached its decision "by bending over backwards to accommodate the attorney General's reentry in the case."
She stated that the ruling could allow government officials to avoid the consequences of litigation decisions made earlier by members of different political parties. This would undermine finality and upset the established expectations of litigants, courts and the public.
Cameron's victory doesn't guarantee that the full appeals court will grant him his request for review, or allow the law to go into effect. It does allow Kentucky law defenders another chance to try and revive it.
Cameron stated in a statement that "This ruling is one that many in commonwealth had hoped for" and that he and his team will continue to fight for pro-life laws by going back to Sixth Circuit to litigate the case.
Their chances of success could depend on the final decision of the Supreme Court regarding the Mississippi case.