SCOTUS Mixed Results

From Father De Celles’ column in parish bulletin July 4 – 5, 2020

SCOTUS Mixed Results

Last week the Supreme Court handed down 2 decisions that were especially newsworthy to Catholics, one decision that was bad news, the other good news. And once again Chief Justice John Roberts was the deciding vote in both. In the bad news case, the court ruled unconstitutional a Louisiana law requiring physicians performing abortions to have active admitting privileges at a hospital located not further than thirty miles from the abortion clinic. 

In explaining his vote with the majority, Roberts contrasted his position with the others in the majority, reminding us that in 2016 he had voted against the Court’s decision in an almost identical case overturning an almost identical law from Texas, “….and [I] continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided. The question today however is not whether [the 2016 Texas case] was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case….  The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike. The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.” 

“Stare decisis (‘to stand by things decided’) is the legal term for fidelity to precedent….The Court accordingly considers additional factors before overruling a precedent…In those instances, ‘[r]emaining true to an ‘intrinsically sounder’ doctrine established in prior cases better serves the values of stare decisis than would following’ the recent departure. ….”

            Some say Roberts wording here is a signaling, “this is not the case we want to use to overturn Roe v. Wade, let’s wait for a case with better facts.” Perhaps. 

            But in the second decision Roberts gave us a much happier decision. In that case the court found that a Montana program granting individuals tax credits for donating to organizations that award scholarships for private school tuition could not prohibit scholarships to religious schools. This time Roberts voted with and wrote the opinion for the majority, finding that the law, “discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution.” Excellent.