Politics

Roll Call Columnists on SCOTUS Abortion, McDonnell Decisions

'Where's the consistency, people?'

Pro-choice demonstrators at the U.S. Supreme Court cheer on Monday as they learn the court struck down a Texas abortion law. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Jon Allen:

What we've seen from federal courts lately is a distaste with the way government prosecutors pursue corruption cases against high-ranking public officials, from the late Sen. Ted Stevens to Gov. Bob McDonnell. I'm not the first to say this, but scandalous behavior and criminal activity are not one and the same. Often, the scandalous aspect of a public official's action is that distasteful things are technically legal. It's important that the court clarified a definition of what constitutes a quid pro quo exchange.  

[ Supreme Court Overturns McDonnell's Bribery Conviction ]  

Our laws may need to be strengthened — and McDonnell may not be "innocent" — but the 8-0 decision is a clear indication that the justices, across the ideological spectrum, recognized a flaw in the way the government builds its corruption cases. This should help guide prosecutors, who, like public officials accused of corruption, serve the public. That's a good thing.  

Abortion is an issue that understandably revolves around deeply held convictions on both sides. What the court did today was affirm that the state doesn't have the power to impinge on the constitutional rights of its citizens. One can argue whether the Roe v. Wade decision should be the law of the land, but inarguably it is the law. This decision makes a lot of sense from a legal standpoint.

Melinda Henneberger:

Perhaps only proving that nothing about abortion is truly inarguable, Roe was in a sense replaced by Planned Parenthood v. Casey   in 1992. But today's decision found that the Texas abortion restrictions that were passed despite that dramatic Wendy Davis filibuster did place an undue burden on women — and met Casey's standard of having "the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion." [ Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Restrictions ]  

Though the Casey decision itself upheld several restrictions on abortion, all restrictions I can think of do have the not-so-secret purpose of trying to prevent abortions. And like a lot of people, I think it would be both smarter and more honest for pro-lifers to concentrate on making the case for laws that, like those in most of the rest of the world, ban late-term abortions, with health and rape exceptions.   

Meanwhile, in any case, we have conservatives arguing for more regulation of just this one industry, and liberals insisting that self-regulation by the abortion industry is all that's needed — but again, in this one industry only. Consistency, people!  

[ Pelosi: 'I'm Not for Abortion on Demand ]  

Along those same lines, what jumped out at me from the majority opinion in the  Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt  case was this: "Gosnell’s behavior was terribly wrong,'' it said, referring to Kermit Gosnell, the convicted Philadelphia abortion doctor who delivered living, full-term children and then beheaded them. "But there is no reason to believe that an extra layer of regulation would have affected that behavior."

Oh, just like terrorists would ignore stricter gun laws? On all sides, we hear a highly selective deployment of the argument that since bad guys don't follow laws, there's no point in stiffening the law.

Matt Lewis: 

I'm struck by the context of this all. We just spent a week where the  same people who want to abridge a clearly specified right (the Second A mendment) are now applauding this Supreme Court ruling on an invented  right. (There is no constitutional right to an abortion or "privacy"  that I can find.) What is more, the Texas law that was struck down  simply required abortion clinics and doctors to comply with the same  standards as hospitals. This might or might not be good policy,  but — in the wake of the tragic and gruesome Gosnell story — it's hardly  a non sequitur. Yet, many of the same people who want states to  mandate onerous regulations on Airbnb and Uber think such regulations  for abortion providers are beyond the pale. 

We've (rightly) heard so much about the dangers the Zika virus poses to the unborn. This is yet another example of the cognitive dissonance on full display.

Mary C. Curtis:

Every presidential election, one side or other has tried, mostly in vain, to make appointments to the Supreme Court a major issue. With the present court’s rulings on controversial issues announced to a divided country — to reactions of shock and celebration, depending on which side you’re on — 2016 may be different.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, striking down a Texas law tightening up regulations for clinics and doctors who perform abortions, gave both sides a prime issue to run and raise funds on.

Hillary Clinton’s statement made it clear: “ We need a President who will defend women’s health and rights and appoint Supreme Court justices who recognize Roe v. Wade as settled law.” Donald Trump’s positions — all of them — on the issue have been muddled and changing, but with a recent meeting with hundreds of Christian leaders and his campaign’s announcement of an "Evangelical Executive Advisory Board"  that will advise the candidate "on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America," the presumptive Republican nominee has aligned himself with groups for whom the abortion issue is a litmus test.

And there is that vacant seat on the Supreme Court that Republicans refuse to move on until the election, adding tension to an already tense stalemate.

In 2016, each branch of government is up for grabs.

Patricia Murphy: 

The Supreme Court's unanimous decision vacating Bob McDonnell's conviction was the right thing to do, even for two people up to their eyeballs in bad behavior like McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.

Two facts in the case were never in dispute — McDonnell never broke Virginia ethics law, and Jonnie Williams, the man who smothered the McDonnell family with lavish gifts, never seemed to get anything of real value in return for his largesse other than meetings, phone calls and an event at the governor's mansion.

Chief Justice John Roberts noted a governor could legitimately do all of those things for a company or CEO based in his state.  In fact, those are the very type of high-visibility, low-commitment actions politicians often undertake to avoid doing something out-of-the-ordinary in return for campaign cash.

Without the quo, it was always hard to see the quid pro quo, even in the McDonnells' outstretched hands.

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