Gonzales v. Carhart

Gonzales v. Carhart

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Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124
Case citation
Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported...

 (2007), is a United States Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 case that upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is a United States law prohibiting a form of late-term abortion that the Act calls "partial-birth abortion", often referred to in medical literature as intact dilation and extraction...

 of 2003. The case reached the high court after U.S. Attorney General
United States Attorney General
The United States Attorney General is the head of the United States Department of Justice concerned with legal affairs and is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government. The attorney general is considered to be the chief lawyer of the U.S. government...

 Alberto Gonzales
Alberto Gonzales
Alberto R. Gonzales was the 80th Attorney General of the United States. Gonzales was appointed to the post in February 2005 by President George W. Bush. Gonzales was the first Hispanic Attorney General in U.S. history and the highest-ranking Hispanic government official ever...

 appealed a ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* Eastern District of Arkansas* Western District of Arkansas...

 in favor of LeRoy Carhart
Leroy Carhart
LeRoy Harrison Carhart is an American physician from Nebraska who became well known for his participation in the Supreme Court cases Stenberg v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Carhart, both of which dealt with intact dilation and extraction , a controversial abortion procedure.-Biography:Carhart is a...

 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
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is a U.S. federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* District of Alaska* District of Arizona...

, which had struck down the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

The Supreme Court's decision upheld Congress's 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," such as the Court's prior decisions in Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade, , was a controversial landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. The Court decided that a right to privacy under the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion,...

and Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the constitutionality of several Pennsylvania state regulations regarding abortion were challenged...

.
In a legal sense, the case distinguished but did not overrule Stenberg v. Carhart
Stenberg v. Carhart
Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 , is a case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States dealing with a Nebraska law which made performing partial-birth abortion illegal, except where necessary to save the life of the mother. Nebraska physicians who performed the procedure contrary to the law...

(2000), in which the Court dealt with related issues. However, Gonzales was widely interpreted as signaling a shift in Supreme Court jurisprudence toward a restriction of abortion rights, occasioned in part by the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor is an American jurist who was the first female member of the Supreme Court of the United States. She served as an Associate Justice from 1981 until her retirement from the Court in 2006. O'Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981...

 and her replacement by Samuel Alito
Samuel Alito
Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and has served on the court since January 31, 2006....

. An editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine
New England Journal of Medicine
The New England Journal of Medicine is an English-language peer-reviewed medical journal published by the Massachusetts Medical Society. It describes itself as the oldest continuously published medical journal in the world.-History:...

identified the case as a landmark: "This is the first time the Court has ever held that physicians can be prohibited from using a medical procedure deemed necessary by the physician to benefit the patient's health."

History of case


The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is a United States law prohibiting a form of late-term abortion that the Act calls "partial-birth abortion", often referred to in medical literature as intact dilation and extraction...

 was signed into law by President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 on November 5, 2003. It was found unconstitutional in the U.S. District Courts
United States district court
The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. Both civil and criminal cases are filed in the district court, which is a court of law, equity, and admiralty. There is a United States bankruptcy court associated with each United States...

 for the Northern District of California
United States District Court for the Northern District of California
The United States District Court for the Northern District of California is the federal United States district court whose jurisdiction comprises following counties of California: Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San...

, the Southern District of New York
United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York is a federal district court. Appeals from the Southern District of New York are taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (in case...

, and the District of Nebraska
United States District Court for the District of Nebraska
The United States District Court for the District of Nebraska is the Federal district court whose jurisdiction is the state of Nebraska. Court offices are in Omaha, Lincoln, and North Platte....

.

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
United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* Eastern District of Arkansas* Western District of Arkansas...

. The panel unanimously affirmed 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 was unconstitutional because it lacked an exception for the health of the woman.

Attorney General Gonzales petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Eighth Circuit decision on September 25, 2005. Meanwhile, the Ninth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is a U.S. federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* District of Alaska* District of Arizona...

 also found the law unconstitutional, as did the Second Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is one of the thirteen United States Courts of Appeals...

 (with a dissent), issuing their opinions on January 31, 2006. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Carhart case on February 21, 2006, and agreed to hear the companion Planned Parenthood case on June 19, 2006.

Oral arguments


Oral arguments in this case (as well as its companion case) occurred on November 7, 2006. U.S. Solicitor General
United States Solicitor General
The United States Solicitor General is the person appointed to represent the federal government of the United States before the Supreme Court of the United States. The current Solicitor General, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 6, 2011 and sworn in on June...

 Paul Clement
Paul Clement
Paul Drew Clement is a former United States Solicitor General and current Georgetown University legal professor. He is also an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law. He was nominated by President George W...

, presented arguments for the United States, and Priscilla Smith presented arguments for Dr. Carhart et al. Solicitor General Clement also presented arguments for the United States in the companion case of Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood. Eve Gartner presented arguments for Planned Parenthood. The Supreme Court has made available audio of the oral arguments, in both Carhart and Planned Parenthood.

Decision


Justice Anthony Kennedy
Anthony Kennedy
Anthony McLeod Kennedy is an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, having been appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Since the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor, Kennedy has often been the swing vote on many of the Court's politically charged 5–4 decisions...

 wrote for the Court that the respondent
Respondent
A respondent is a person who is called upon to issue a response to a communication made by another. In legal usage, this specifically refers to the defendant in a legal proceeding commenced by a petition, or to an appellee, or the opposing party, in an appeal of a decision by an initial fact-finder...

s had failed to show that Congress lacked authority to ban this abortion procedure. Chief Justice John Roberts
John Roberts
John Glover Roberts, Jr. is the 17th and current Chief Justice of the United States. He has served since 2005, having been nominated by President George W. Bush after the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist...

, Justice Samuel Alito
Samuel Alito
Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and has served on the court since January 31, 2006....

, Justice Clarence Thomas
Clarence Thomas
Clarence Thomas is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Succeeding Thurgood Marshall, Thomas is the second African American to serve on the Court....

, and Justice Antonin Scalia
Antonin Scalia
Antonin Gregory Scalia is an American jurist who serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the longest-serving justice on the Court, Scalia is the Senior Associate Justice...

 agreed with the Court's judgment, joining 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
Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of New England
Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, 546 U.S. 320 , was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States involving a facial challenge to New Hampshire's parental notification abortion law. The First Circuit had ruled that the law was unconstitutional and an injunction against...

. 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."

The Court decided to "assume ... for the purposes of this opinion" the principles of Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade, , was a controversial landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. The Court decided that a right to privacy under the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion,...

and Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the constitutionality of several Pennsylvania state regulations regarding abortion were challenged...

.

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 fit that interest so as not to create an undue burden. Relying deferentially on Congress's findings that this intact dilation and extraction
Intact dilation and extraction
Intact dilation and extraction is a procedure done in late term abortion. It is also known as intact dilation and evacuation, dilation and extraction , intrauterine cranial decompression and, vernacularly in the United States, as partial birth abortion...

 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 clarified that the pre-viability/post-viability distinction was not implicated in Carhart.

In addition, the Court distinguished the Stenberg
Stenberg v. Carhart
Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 , is a case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States dealing with a Nebraska law which made performing partial-birth abortion illegal, except where necessary to save the life of the mother. Nebraska physicians who performed the procedure contrary to the law...

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
Due process
Due process is the legal code that the state must venerate all of the legal rights that are owed to a person under the principle. Due process balances the power of the state law of the land and thus protects individual persons from it...

"). However, the majority opinion disagreed with the Eighth Circuit that the federal statute conflicted with "the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment
Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, protects against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure. Its guarantees stem from English common law which traces back to the Magna Carta in 1215...

 [which] is textually identical to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

."

Concurrence


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
Commerce Clause
The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

 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
Nadine Strossen
Nadine Strossen was president of the American Civil Liberties Union from February 1991 to October 2008. She was the first woman and the youngest person to ever lead the ACLU. A professor at New York Law School, Professor Strossen sits on the Council on Foreign Relations...

, President of the ACLU
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union is a U.S. non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." It works through litigation, legislation, and...

, pointed out that "no less an anti-abortion proponent than Justice Scalia
Antonin Scalia
Antonin Gregory Scalia is an American jurist who serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the longest-serving justice on the Court, Scalia is the Senior Associate Justice...

 joined by Justice Thomas
Clarence Thomas
Clarence Thomas is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Succeeding Thurgood Marshall, Thomas is the second African American to serve on the Court....

, in his separate opinion, chided the majority for not coming out and explicitly saying that they had overturned not Roe v. Wade, but the prior partial-birth abortion ban case
Stenberg v. Carhart
Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 , is a case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States dealing with a Nebraska law which made performing partial-birth abortion illegal, except where necessary to save the life of the mother. Nebraska physicians who performed the procedure contrary to the law...

."

Dissent


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton and took the oath of office on August 10, 1993. She is the second female justice and the first Jewish female justice.She is generally viewed as belonging to...

 dissented, joined by justices David Souter
David Souter
David Hackett Souter is a former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He served from 1990 until his retirement on June 29, 2009. Appointed by President George H. W. Bush to fill the seat vacated by William J...

, John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from December 19, 1975 until his retirement on June 29, 2010. At the time of his retirement, he was the oldest member of the Court and the third-longest serving justice in the Court's history...

, and Stephen Breyer
Stephen Breyer
Stephen Gerald Breyer is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, and known for his pragmatic approach to constitutional law, Breyer is generally associated with the more liberal side of the Court....

, contending that the ruling was an "alarming" one that ignored Supreme Court abortion precedent and "refuse[d] to take Casey and Stenberg seriously." Referring in particular to Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the constitutionality of several Pennsylvania state regulations regarding abortion were challenged...

, Ginsburg 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."

Ginsburg also took issue with the lack of a health exception, writing that "the absence of a health exception burdens all women for whom it is relevant—women who, in the judgment of their doctors, require an intact D&E because other procedures would place their health at risk." In general, the dissent criticized the usurpation of medical decision-making by legislators and the minimization of "the reasoned medical judgments of highly trained doctors... as 'preferences' motivated by 'mere convenience'."

Justice Kennedy's opinion in Carhart did not touch upon the question of whether the Court's prior decisions in Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade, , was a controversial landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. The Court decided that a right to privacy under the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion,...

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.’" Ginsburg concluded by criticizing the majority for abandoning the principle of stare decisis
Stare decisis
Stare decisis is a legal principle by which judges are obliged to respect the precedents established by prior decisions...

, writing that "a decision so at odds with our jurisprudence should not have staying power."

Reactions


According to an ABC News
ABC News
ABC News is the news gathering and broadcasting division of American broadcast television network ABC, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company...

 poll, the majority of Americans (69%) oppose the legality of D&E
Dilation and evacuation
Dilation and evacuation literally refers to the dilation of the cervix and surgical evacuation of the contents of the uterus...

 or what opponents call "partial-birth" abortion.http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/abortion_poll030122.html

Some Medical groups expressed concern that the Court, in supporting the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is a United States law prohibiting a form of late-term abortion that the Act calls "partial-birth abortion", often referred to in medical literature as intact dilation and extraction...

, endorsed the substitution of congressional legislation for medical judgment. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which had submitted an amicus brief opposing the Act, described the Court's decision as "shameful and incomprehensible", ignorant of medical consensus, and chilling for the medical profession. The New England Journal of Medicine
New England Journal of Medicine
The New England Journal of Medicine is an English-language peer-reviewed medical journal published by the Massachusetts Medical Society. It describes itself as the oldest continuously published medical journal in the world.-History:...

criticized the intrusion of politicians into medical decision-making, writing:
Until this opinion, the Court recognized the importance of not interfering with medical judgments made by physicians to protect a patient's interest. For the first time, the Court permits congressional judgment to replace medical judgment.


Professor and academic Geoffrey R. Stone
Geoffrey R. Stone
Geoffrey R. Stone is an American law professor. He is currently the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School.-Dean of the Chicago Law School:...

 has argued that the religion of Supreme Court judges played an important role in the decision, given that the five judges in the majority were Catholic.

See also


External links