Civil and Human Rights

June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Russo

In June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Russo, the Supreme Court invalidated Louisiana’s Act 620, a law which required physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, holding it unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Case Summary

Louisiana’s Act 620 required that physicians who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.  The law was modeled after Texas’ HB2, which was struck down in 2016 by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Despite this controlling precedent, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the Louisiana law, which would have forced all but one of the state’s abortion clinics to close, without any meaningful inquiry into whether the laws served any health-related purpose.  In February 2019, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court voted to stay the Fifth Circuit’s ruling and temporarily block the Louisiana law. In April 2019, June Medical Services L.L.C. filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, and in October 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

In December 2019, CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of June Medical Services L.L.C., which argued that the Fifth Circuit’s analysis could not be squared with the text or history of the Fourteenth Amendment, the constitutionally-mandated role of the courts in securing the Constitution’s promise of liberty for all, or the Supreme Court’s precedents.  Our brief demonstrated that the text and history of the Fourteenth Amendment protect personal individual rights essential to liberty, dignity, and autonomy and require courts to carefully review state legislation impinging on individual liberty.

As we discussed, history shows that the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment wrote that Amendment to provide broad protections for substantive liberty—not limited to rights enumerated elsewhere in the Constitution—to secure equal citizenship stature for men and women of all races and classes.  The Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of substantive liberty, together with its guarantee of equality, ensure the full promise of freedom, guaranteeing to all equal dignity in the eyes of the law.  In refusing to meaningfully scrutinize state laws that would have closed all but one of the abortion clinics in Louisiana, the Fifth Circuit failed to protect the full scope of liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and to fulfill the constitutionally mandated role of courts in securing personal liberty and equal dignity for all.

The Supreme Court, by a vote of 5-4, reversed the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, striking down Louisiana’s Act 620.  The Court recognized that Act 620 was “almost word-for-word” identical to the Texas law it struck down in Whole Woman’s Health.  Insisting that like cases must be treated alike, the Court held that the statute was invalid under Whole Women’s Health and that the Fifth Circuit had erred in flouting the Supreme Court’s holding in Whole Women’s Health.  Four Justices voted to uphold the law, insisting that other states were free to enact restrictions identical to the one the Justices had previously struck down.  The Court’s decision, enforcing the principle of stare decisis, is a small step toward upholding the personal liberty and equal dignity promised to all by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Case Timeline

  • December 2, 2019

    CAC files an amicus brief

    U.S. Sup. Ct. Amicus Brief
  • March 4, 2020

    The Supreme Court hears oral arguments

  • June 29, 2020

    The Supreme Court issues its decision

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