Great News From Supreme Court

There is much to celebrate in this week’s Supreme Court ruling on the New Hampshire parental notification case. The court’s unanimous ruling is a direct rebuke to the 9th Circuit and Idaho’s District Judge Lynn Winmill.

The central issue in the case was the question of “severability”. That is a high-falutin’ legal term which means that as much of a law as can be preserved ought to be preserved – even if a judge thinks there are constitutional problems with some portions of that law. This legal doctrine has the effect of imposing a kind of curb on judges drunk with their own power. Essentially this doctrine pays deep courtesy to the legislative branch of state and federal governments by acknowledging their proper role in writing law.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly told lower courts that judges ought to respect the work of the legislative branch. They ought to bend over backwards to uphold as much of their work as possible, to be as surgical as possible in crafting justice. Idaho federal magistrate Mikel Williams took those constitutional directions to heart back in 2001 when he upheld most of Idaho’s Parental Consent Law. Because of his humility – hundreds of girls were spared an abortion history, hundreds of babies lived during the four years that Idaho’s law was in effect. Williams did so even though he struck down two parts of the law because he felt they violated previous Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution.

But Judge Winmill did not. He struck down the entire law. Perhaps this ruling will serve to check Winmill’s discretion in the future. One can certainly hope that he will, under this unanimous reaffirmation of previous rulings, take greater care in dealing with the Idaho Legislature than he has up to this point.

We can also celebrate the fact that the Supreme Court did not use the New Hampshire case to expound further on its various preposterous rulings around “health exceptions” and “undue burden”. The unanimous ruling was on the narrow grounds of severability and legislative intent. It ordered the 1st District Court of Appeals to revisit the case and narrow the scope of its proposed remedies to only those instances where a constitutional issue is at play.

The bottom line for the families of New Hampshire is that parental notification will be enforced in a majority of cases. The bottom line for America is that the pro-Life cause made some modest gains with this ruling – while avoiding further O’Connor-inspired disaster.


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©2005 Idaho Chooses Life