Supreme Court hears first abortion case since Kennedy’s retirement

The US Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday over Texas’ sweeping abortion restrictions. It’s the first abortion case to be heard at the high court since Justice Anthony Kennedy retired from the bench last summer.

The 5-3 ruling Friday by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas’ state-level abortion regulations, arguing that they remained narrowly tailored and constitutional.

Oral arguments got off to a raucous start Tuesday morning, with Chief Justice John Roberts warning the court to avoid proscriptive comments about abortion and let its 6-3 abortion ruling in 1973 stand.

“Do you want a more ‘enlightened’ court where the opinions are narrower and the opinions [and] dialogue are more open and frank?” Roberts asked. “I think we ought to talk about how to build on the judgment.”

The first line of the court’s abortion dissent arrived from Justice Clarence Thomas, who objected to court giving the policy direction states have sought with the strategy of requiring abortion clinics to be “equivalent” to hospitals and a third-party custodian who cares for pregnant women.

Attorneys for the state of Texas said the regulations in question are not new but have been upheld by multiple federal courts, including the high court itself, and did not seek to curtail a woman’s right to an abortion as the other states had attempted.

Protesters filled the courtroom as well, with a large anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights contingent seated on one side of the marble floor and a contingent of pro-choice advocates lined up across the aisle.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan attended the arguments.

Roberts noted that the outcome of this case would decide whether one of the high court’s most long-standing abortion rulings stands the test of time.

Trump last year named Roberts as his preferred candidate to replace Kennedy on the court and he took the bench earlier this year. On Monday, Roberts led a partisan fight over Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that marked the high court’s landmark decision that the Constitution protected African-Americans from racial discrimination.

President Donald Trump’s four nominees to the court have only so far affirmed the existing abortion ruling from 1973.

“It seems to me the case is clearly ripe,” Roberts said Tuesday.

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