SCOTUS Tosses Out Ruling that Allowed an Immigrant Teen in Federal Custody to Obtain an Abortion

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Posted: Jun 04, 2018 11:10 AM
SCOTUS Tosses Out Ruling that Allowed an Immigrant Teen in Federal Custody to Obtain an Abortion

The Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling against the government Monday on the issue of whether they were required to facilitate an abortion for an unaccompanied minor, Jane Doe. The court tossed out the ruling only because the issue was moot, but by vacating the ruling the court prevented the case from setting legal precedent for other unaccompanied minors seeking abortion.

The justices released an unsigned opinion with no dissents siding with the Trump administration by vacating the lower court ruling. The opinion did not comply with the DOJ attorneys’ unusual request to discipline the American Civil Liberties Union attorneys in the case because, the DOJ argued, they misled them as to the timing of the minor’s abortion so they were unable to seek a stay from the Supreme Court.

The DOJ’s petition explains that Jane Doe's attorneys moved her counseling appointment to three hours earlier then planned - and changed it from a counseling appointment to an abortion appointment. The DOJ was informed of the former but not the latter change.

"Although Ms. Doe’s representatives informed the government of the change in timing, they did not inform the government of the other two developments—which kept the government in the dark about when Ms. Doe was scheduled to have an abortion,” DOJ attorneys pointed out.

ACLU Legal Director David Cole responded to the news at the time by claiming that it was Jane Doe's lawyers "job" to "see that she wasn't delayed any further." 

"The Trump administration blocked Jane Doe from getting constitutionally protected care for a month and subjected her to illegal obstruction, coercion, and shaming as she waited," Cole said in a statement. "After the courts cleared the way for her to get her abortion, it was the ACLU's job as her lawyers to see that she wasn't delayed any further — not to give the government another chance to stand in her way."

In Monday’s opinion, the justices, said that they took the government’s claims “seriously” but that there was no need to “delve into the factual disputes” of the case in order to vacate the ruling.

“The court takes allegations like those the government makes here seriously, for ethical rules are necessary to the maintenance of a culture of civility and mutual trust within the legal profession,” the opinion said. “On the one hand, all attorneys must remain aware of the principle that zealous advocacy does not displace their obligations as officers of the court.”

“Especially in fast-paced, emergency proceedings like those at issue here, it is critical that lawyers and courts alike be able to rely on one another’s representations,” they continued. “On the other hand, lawyers also have ethical obligations to their clients and not all communication breakdowns constitute misconduct.”

The justices concluded, “the court need not delve into the factual disputes raised by the parties” to vacate the lower court’s decision.