September 13, 2021
On Thursday, September 9, the Biden Administration sued the State of Texas over its highly restrictive abortion law, which the Supreme Court allowed to take effect earlier this month, reports Politico.
“The act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news conference. “This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans, whatever their politics or party, should fear.”
The Texas law, SB8, effectively bans most abortions by prohibiting the procedure after six weeks from conception—a period that is before when many people become aware they are pregnant. Additionally, it sets up a novel enforcement mechanism that authorizes private citizens to file lawsuits against those who are believed to perform or aid in an abortion outside of that window.
Garland took direct aim at that aspect of the law, saying it empowered “bounty hunters” to enforce it for the guarantee of a minimum of $10,000 payment if the suit succeeds. He also warned that the Texas law could become a model not only for other states but also for people looking to undermine other constitutional rights, which he did not specify.
“If it prevails, it may become a model for action in other areas in other states,” the attorney general told reporters at Justice Department headquarters.
Politico and other outlets reported on Wednesday, September 8, that the Department of Justice was preparing to sue Texas over the new law, which has outraged Democrats and abortion rights supporters in the aftermath of the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling refusing an emergency stay against the statute.. The new lawsuit was filed Thursday afternoon in federal court in the state capital, Austin, and was assigned to Judge Lee Yeakel, an appointee of former President George W. Bush. The Justice Department is seeking an injunction to halt enforcement of Texas’ law and is claiming that the law “irreparably injures” the federal government.
According to Politico, President Joe Biden has faced intense pressure to respond to Texas’ abortion restrictions—nd to early moves in other conservative-led states to craft similar laws. Biden has decried the law, calling it “un-American” and saying it “blatantly violates” the landmark Roe v. Wade precedent. The complaint makes a similar argument and claims Texas lawmakers enacted the statute “in open defiance of the Constitution.”
“It takes little imagination to discern Texas’s goal — to make it too risky for an abortion clinic to operate in the State, thereby preventing women throughout Texas from exercising their constitutional rights, while simultaneously thwarting judicial review,” it states.
Thursday’s announcement makes good on Biden’s promise to take on Texas and attempt to block enforcement of the abortion law—setting up a high-stakes fight with Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who are both Republicans up for reelection next year and have vowed to defend the law.
Garland said that, in addition to violating the rights of women, Texas’ law interfered with the work of several federal agencies—including the Departments of Labor, Heath and Human Services, and Defense—in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Despite the White House’s evident desire to combat the Texas law, Garland insisted that the Justice Department had not responded to pressure to file the suit.
“The Department of Justice does not file lawsuits based on pressure,” the attorney general declared, without elaborating on what role the White House played in preparations for the suit. “We carefully evaluated the law and the facts.”
While federal government lawsuits seeking to invalidate state laws are unusual, they are far from unprecedented. Under former President George W. Bush, the Justice Department sued Arizona over a state law seeking to crack down on undocumented immigrants. And under former President Donald Trump, the Justice Department sued California over state laws impacting immigration enforcement, the use of private prisons and efforts to develop federal land.
The Justice Department designated its new suit as related to a previous one filed by abortion providers and abortion-rights advocates in July over the Texas law. The designation puts the case before Judge Robert Pitman, an appointee of President Barack Obama, but lawyers for Texas could try to challenge the designation.
Research contact: @politico