Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court’s liberal wing on Thursday in temporarily blocking a Louisiana law that would have placed restrictions on abortion clinics, in the high court’s first major ruling on abortion since the confirmation of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The ruling comes as Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, has increasingly and deliberately sought to present the federal judiciary as nonpartisan, amid a flurry of attacks from progressive groups arguing that the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority imperils the country.
The justices decided in a 5-4 vote that they will not allow the state to put into effect a law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The Supreme Court is set to issue a final ruling on the merits of the case later.
The court’s four more conservative justices, including Neil Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, would have allowed the law to take effect. Kavanaugh wrote a dissent explaining his vote, saying the court’s action was premature because the state had made clear it would allow abortion providers an additional 45 days to obtain admitting privileges before it started enforcing the law.
If the doctors succeed, they can continue performing abortions, but if they fail, they could return to court, Kavanaugh wrote.
The law was set to take effect Monday, but last Friday, Justice Samuel Alito temporarily halted its implementation so that the justices could review arguments.
Observers said that at least one and maybe two of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics would have to close if the law were allowed to take effect. A federal appeals court that upheld the law, however, said it’s not clear that any clinic would close.
The law is similar to a Texas measure the justices struck down three years ago by a 5-3 vote, shortly after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Roberts dissented in that case.
The chief justice’s overt attempts to project ideological balance on the Supreme Court have heightened since the contentious confirmation of Kavanaugh ostensibly gave conservatives a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court. Many pro-choice groups claimed that Kavanaugh’s confirmation amounted to a cataclysmic event, with the far-left progressive political action committee Democracy for America warning of the imminent “deaths of countless women.”
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