While the court unanimously “rejects the petitioners’ theory for relief against state-court judges,” the justices, minus Thomas, decided that Texas licensing officials can be sued. More specifically, the decision names Stephen Carlton, executive director of the Texas Medical Board; Katherine Thomas, executive director of the Texas Board of Nursing; Cecile Young, executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and Allison Benz, executive director of the Texas Board of Pharmacy.
In a separate opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts, along with justices Stephen Breyer, Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan wrote that the “clear purpose and actual effect of S. B. 8 has been to nullify this Court’s rulings.”
The eight justices ruled that “petitioners may bring a pre-enforcement suit challenging the Texas law in federal court under Ex parte Young, 209 U. S. 123 (1908), because there exist state executive officials who retain authority to enforce it,” he wrote. “In my view, several other respondents are also proper defendants,” including the Texas attorney general and a court clerk.
Sotomayor, joined by Breyer and Kagan, wrote a separate opinion.
“While the Court properly holds that this suit may proceed against the licensing officials, it errs gravely in foreclosing relief against state-court officials and the state attorney general,” she wrote. “By so doing, the Court leaves all manner of constitutional rights more vulnerable than ever before, to the great detriment of our Constitution and our Republic.”
Pro-life leaders, such as Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, reacted positively to the ruling.
“We celebrate that the Texas Heartbeat Act will remain in effect, saving the lives of unborn children and protecting mothers while litigation continues in lower courts,” she said in a statement. “Meanwhile, we anxiously await the Court’s decision in the Dobbs case in which the Court is directly considering the constitutionality of laws that protect unborn children and mothers prior to viability.”
The court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that directly challenges Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationside, on Dec. 1.
The case involves a Mississippi law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks and centers on the question of “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” or whether states can ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, also responded to Friday’s ruling in a statement.
“We are grateful that this law will continue saving lives while the legal challenges against it wind their way through the lower courts,” she said.
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Lila Rose, founder and president of Live Action, also reacted.
“Today, the Supreme Court refused to strike down the life-saving and democratically popular Texas Heartbeat law,” she said. “While the Court did give a roadmap for lower courts to put the law on hold, the opinion of the Court was crystal clear that this case was not commenting on the constitutionality of the abortion restriction itself.”
“The Court’s decision also allows the law to stay in effect as litigation continues, an important victory for life,” she said.