Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented Monday as the Supreme Court wiped out a federal appeals court ruling that upheld the right of a minor to go to court to obtain permission to seek an abortion without parental notification.
That lower court decision, issued last April by the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, seems moot as a result of the Supreme Court’s momentous Dobbs ruling last June that overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the federal constitutional right to abortion.
The high court’s order Monday directed the appeals court to vacate the judgment in the case out of Missouri and declare it moot.
The Supreme Court issued no opinion or detailed explanation for its action. However, Jackson penned a solo, four-page dissent arguing that the justices have become too liberal in granting requests from parties to nullify rulings issued by lower courts.
“This case presents absolutely no ‘extraordinary’ circumstances” justifying vacating the lower court’s decision, wrote Jackson, President Joe Biden’s only appointee on the high court.
“In my view, it is crucial that we hold the line and limit the availability of Munsingwear vacatur to truly exceptional cases,” she added, referring to a key precedent on when such action is appropriate.
Jackson emphasized that, in her view, “mere disagreement with the decision that one seeks to have vacated cannot suffice” to justify the unusual step.
No other justice recorded any objection to the high court’s action, which was announced as part of a routine set of orders issued Monday morning.
The ruling will have no practical effect in Missouri, which currently has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, with no exemptions for rape or incest. The procedure is only permissible to save the pregnant person’s life or prevent severe damage to their health.
Abortion-rights supporters in the state are currently working to undo that ban by placing a constitutional amendment on the 2024 ballot.
State restrictions on the abortion rights of minors have long predated Dobbs — including in many blue states — and many abortion-rights supporters view such laws as the proving ground for laws later expanded to apply to adults after the fall of Roe.
The case before the justices concerned a 17-year-old in Missouri who asked a court for permission to terminate a pregnancy without notifying her parents as was required by state law.
The lower court’s clerk told the girl that her parents would be notified despite her wishes. After traveling to Illinois for the procedure, she sued, arguing that her constitutional rights were trampled on by the court.
The state of Missouri argued that the District Court judge should be immune, but the 8th Circuit sided with the challenger, who is now an adult. The Supreme Court’s action Monday vacated that ruling, which both parties had already agreed was moot in light of the near-total abortion ban the state imposed post-Dobbs.