DOJ asks Supreme Court to temporarily block Texas law that bans abortions after 6 weeks

Pro-choice activists demonstrate outside the Supreme Court on October 04, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court on Monday to temporarily block the enforcement of a Texas law that bans most abortions after as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

The Department of Justice announced last week that it would ask the high court to effectively block enforcement of the law, S.B. 8, while legal disputes played out.

The agency’s application argues that the Supreme Court should vacate a lower court’s “unjustified” decision to allow the law to stay in effect, which “enables Texas’s ongoing nullification of this Court’s precedents and its citizens’ constitutional rights.”

Justice Samuel Alito, who handles requests from Texas, ordered the Lone Star State to respond to the DOJ by Thursday at noon.

In addition to banning abortions at a point when many women do not yet know they are pregnant, the law relies on private citizens, rather than officials, to enforce it by empowering them to file civil lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” abortions in Texas.

Critics, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, say that system turns state citizens into “bounty hunters.”

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law, which went into effect on Sept. 1. Abortion-rights advocates and providers in August had filed an unsuccessful emergency request for the Supreme Court to block the law ahead of its implementation.

Hours after the law took effect, the court issued a 5-4 opinion rejecting the bid for an injunction, partly on procedural grounds. That one-paragraph ruling came late at night, without hearing oral arguments from the parties in the case.

The Justice Department, led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, filed a lawsuit in Texas later in September. The agency argued that S.B. 8 “insults the rule of law” and violates the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, which protects the right to an abortion before fetal viability.

Earlier in October, a federal judge granted the DOJ’s bid to temporarily block enforcement of the law, saying, “this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”

But the law was allowed to go back into effect after that judge’s ruling was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

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