Washington D.C., Jun 29, 2020 / 15:59 pm
In 2005, John Roberts' confirmation as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was hailed by many pro-life groups as an encouraging sign in the fight against legalized abortion. With the right combination of Supreme Court justices, they hoped, the court would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide "right to abortion."
Today, 15 years later, Roberts cast the deciding vote in striking down a Louisiana law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital (June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo).
In his opinion, Roberts invoked the principle of stare decisis - the idea that if the court has already ruled on a certain issue, that precedent should generally be respected. He pointed to the court's decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down a similar Texas law in 2016. Roberts dissented in the 2016 case. In today's opinion, he said he still thinks the Texas case was decided wrongly, but believes the principle of stare decicis means the question is settled, at least for now.
Stare decisis is not absolute. The court has overturned its previous decisions, in landmark decisions like Brown v. Board of Education and in many smaller and less noted cases. Roberts himself authored one such opinion last year (Knick v. Township of Scott). In this case, however, he says there is not sufficient reason to overturn the previous ruling, even if he believes it to be flawed. Because the Louisiana law in question in this case is similar to the Texas law, he believes the previous ruling should apply in this case as well.