Gonzales v. Carhart

Gonzales v. Carhart

Litigants=Gonzales v. Carhart
ArgueDate=November 8
DecideDate=April 18
FullName=Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General, Petitioner v. LeRoy Carhart, et al.; Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General, Petitioner v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., et al.
CitationNew=127 S. Ct. 1610; 167 L. Ed. 2d 480; 75 U.S.L.W. 4210
Holding=Respondents have not demonstrated that the Act, as a facial matter, is void for vagueness, or that it imposes an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion based on its overbreadth or lack of a health exception. The decisions of the Courts of Appeals for the Eighth and Ninth Circuits are reversed.
JoinMajority=Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito
JoinDissent=Stevens, Souter, Breyer
LawsApplied=U.S. Const. amend. V; Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act

"Gonzales v. Carhart", 550 U.S. ___ (2007), is a United States Supreme Court case which upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. [ [http://www.nrlc.org/abortion/pba/partial_birth_abortion_Ban_act_final_language.htm Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate)] ] The case reached the high court after U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appealed a ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in favor of LeRoy Carhart that struck down the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Also before the Supreme Court was the consolidated appeal of "Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood" from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which had struck down the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

The Supreme Court's decision, handed down on April 18, 2007, upheld the federal ban and held that it did not impose an undue burden on the due process right of women to obtain an abortion, "under precedents we here assume to be controlling,""Gonzales v. Carhart", [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=05-380 550 U.S. ____ (2007)] . Findlaw.com. Retrieved 2007-04-19.] such as the Court's prior decisions in "Roe v. Wade" and "Planned Parenthood v. Casey." This case distinguished but did not reverse "Stenberg v. Carhart" (2000), in which the Court dealt with similar issues.

History of case

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was signed into law by President Bush on November 5, 2003, and was immediately challenged. Three different U.S. district courts, the Northern District of California, the Southern District of New York, and the District of Nebraska declared the law unconstitutional. Federal District Judge Phyllis Hamilton of California ruled it unconstitutional on June 1, 2004 in "Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft". [ [http://fl1.findlaw.com/news.findlaw.com/cnn/docs/abortion/ppash60104ord.pdf "Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft", Order Granting Permanent Injunction, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Support Thereof] , United States District Court for the Northern District of California (June 1, 2004)] New York District Judge Richard C. Casey also found the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional, [ [http://www.nysd.uscourts.gov/rulings/03CV8695_Order_083004.pdf "National Abortion Federation v. Ashcroft", Opinion and Order] , United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (August 26, 2004)] as did U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf in Nebraska. [ [http://www.crlp.org/pdf/pdf_crt_carVash_op090804.pdf "Carhart v. Ashcroft", Memorandum and Order] , United States District Court for the District of Nebraska (September 8, 2004)]

The federal government appealed the district court rulings, first bringing "Carhart v. Gonzales" before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The panel unanimously upheld the ruling of the Nebraska court on July 8, 2005. Finding that the government offered no "new evidence which would serve to distinguish this record from the record reviewed by the Supreme Court in "Stenberg"," they held that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act is unconstitutional because it lacks an exception for the health of the woman. [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/circs/8th/043379p.pdf "Gonzales v. Carhart"] , United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (July 8, 2005)]

Attorney General Gonzales petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Eighth Circuit decision on September 25, 2005. Meanwhile, the Ninth Circuit also found the law unconstitutional, [ [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/circs/9th/0416621p.pdf "Planned Parenthood Federation v. Gonzalez"] , United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (January 31, 2006)] as did the Second Circuit (with a dissent), [ [http://www.nrlc.org/abortion/pba/2ndCircuitPBArulingdissent.pdf "National Abortion Federation v. Gonzalez"] , United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (January 31, 2006)] issuing their opinions on January 31, 2006. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the "Carhart" case on February 21, 2006, [ [http://supreme.lp.findlaw.com/supreme_court/docket/2006/november/05-380-gonzales-v-carhart.html Supreme Court Docket, "Gonzales v. Carhart" (No. 05-380)] , providing copies of briefs, courtesy of Findlaw.com.] and agreed to hear the companion "Planned Parenthood" case on June 19, 2006. [ [http://supreme.lp.findlaw.com/supreme_court/docket/2006/november/05-1382-gonzales-v-planned-parenthood.html Supreme Court Docket, "Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood" (No. 05-1382)] , providing copies of briefs, courtesy of Findlaw.com.]

Oral arguments

Oral arguments in this case (as well as its companion case) occurred on November 8, 2006. U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, presented arguments for the federal government and Priscilla Smith presented arguments for Dr. Carhart "et al." [ [http://www.supremecourtus.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/05-380.pdf Transcript of Oral Arguments, "Gonzales v. Carhart"] (November 8, 2006), via U.S. Supreme Court web site.] U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement also presented arguments for the federal government in the companion case of "Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood". Eve Gartner presented arguments for Planned Parenthood. [ [http://www.supremecourtus.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/05-1382.pdf Transcript of Oral Arguments, "Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood"] (November 8, 2006), via U.S. Supreme Court web site.] The Supreme Court has made available audio of the oral arguments, in both "Carhart" [ [http://www.oyez.org/media/item?type=audio&id=argument&parent=cases/2000-2009/2006/2006_05_380 Audio and Transcript of Oral Arguments, "Gonzales v. Carhart"] (November 8, 2006) via "Oyez" web site] and "Planned Parenthood". [ [http://www.oyez.org/media/item?type=audio&id=argument&parent=cases/2000-2009/2006/2006_05_1382 Audio and Transcript of Oral Arguments, "Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood"] (November 8, 2006) via "Oyez" web site]


Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Court that the respondents had failed to show that Congress lacked power to ban this abortion procedure. Chief Justice John Roberts along with Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia agreed with the Court's judgment, and they also joined Kennedy's opinion.

The Court left the door open for as-applied challenges, citing its recent precedent in "Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of New England". According to Washington Post reporter Benjamin Wittes, "The Court majority, following the path it sketched out last year in the New Hampshire case, decided to let the law stand as a facial matter and let the parties fight later about what, if any, applications need to be blocked." [cite web
url = http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2007/0430governance_wittes.aspx
title = The Supreme Court's Shift on Abortion is Not What You Think
accessdate = 2007-12-03
last = Wittes
first = Benjamin
date = 2007-04-30
publisher = The New Republic

The Court decided to "assume ... for the purposes of this opinion" the principles of "Roe v. Wade" and "Planned Parenthood v. Casey". The Court then proceeded to apply those "principles accepted as controlling here."

The Court said that the lower courts had repudiated a central premise of "Casey" — that the state has an interest in preserving fetal life — and the Court held that the ban was narrowly tailored to address this interest. Relying deferentially on Congress's findings that this intact dilation and extraction procedure is never needed to protect the health of a pregnant woman, Kennedy wrote that a health exception was therefore unnecessary. And, where medical testimony disputed Congress's findings, Congress is still entitled to regulate in an area where the medical community has not reached a "consensus."

The majority opinion held that "ethical and moral concerns", including an interest in fetal life, represented "substantial" state interests which (assuming they do not impose an "undue" burden) could be a basis for legislation at all times during pregnancy, not just after viability. Thus, the Court believed that the pre-viability/post-viability distinction was not implicated in "Carhart".

In addition, the Court distinguished the "Stenberg" case, which previously struck down Nebraska's partial-birth abortion law. The Court held that the state statute at issue in "Stenberg" was more ambiguous than the later federal statute at issue in "Carhart".

The majority opinion in "Gonzales v. Carhart" did not discuss the constitutional rationale of the Court's prior abortion cases (i.e. "due process"). However, the majority opinion disagreed with the Eighth Circuit that the federal statute conflicted with "the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment [which] is textually identical to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."


Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Scalia, saving for another day the issue of whether Congress had sufficient power under the Commerce Clause to enact this ban. The Commerce Clause was also mentioned in the opinion of the Court, and was the only clause of the Constitution mentioned explicitly by the opinions in this case.

The concurrence also stated that Justices Thomas and Scalia joined the Court's opinion "because it accurately applies current jurisprudence." And, the concurrence reiterated their view that that current abortion jurisprudence "has no basis in the Constitution." Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU, pointed out that "no less an anti-abortion proponent than joined by , in his separate opinion, chided the majority for not coming out and explicitly saying that they had overturned not "Roe vs. Wade", but the prior partial-birth abortion ban case." [ [http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/ACLU_President_Strossen_on_religion%2C_drugs%2C_guns_and_impeaching_George_Bush Interview with Nadine Strossen] , David Shankbone, "Wikinews", October 30, 2007.]


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, joined by justices David Souter, John Paul Stevens, and Stephen Breyer, contending that the ruling was an "alarming" one that ignored Supreme Court abortion precedent. Justice Ginsburg's dissent was the only opinion in this case that mentioned the word "privacy". Justice Ginsburg, referring in particular to "Planned Parenthood v. Casey", sought to ground the Court's abortion jurisprudence based on concepts of personal autonomy and equal citizenship rather than the Court's previous privacy approach: "Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature."

Justice Kennedy's opinion in "Carhart" did not touch upon the question of whether the Court's prior decisions in "Roe v. Wade" and "Planned Parenthood v. Casey" were valid. Dissenting Justice Ginsburg characterized this aspect of the Court's opinion as follows: "Casey's principles, confirming the continuing vitality of ‘the essential holding of Roe,’ are merely ‘assume [d] ’ for the moment ... rather than ‘retained’ or ‘reaffirmed.’"

ee also

* List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 550


External links

*Alexi Wright and Ingrid T. Katz [http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/355/1/1 "Roe versus Reality — Abortion and Women's Health"] , "New England Journal of Medicine", Volume 355, pp 1–9 (July 6, 2006) (perspective from opponents of the PBA statute).
* [http://www.aclj.org/Cases/default.aspx?Section=109 American Center for Law and Justice] (group defending PBA statute provides info including links to media coverage).
* [http://www.crlp.org/crt_pba_timeline.html "Fighting to Protect Women's Health"] , Center for Reproductive Rights (group opposing PBA statute provides timeline of case).
* [http://www.covenantnews.com/enyart070424.htm PBA Ruling Splits Movement] , CovenantNews.com analysis lists pro-life groups condemning this decision due to its affirmation of even late-term abortion.
* [http://www.coloradorighttolife.org/partial-birth-abortion-ban-ruling Analysis of Gonzales v. Carhart] , Colorado Right to Life analysis of Partial Birth Abortion Ban ruling (Gonzales v. Carhart)

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