Our Judiciary’s Selective Enforcement

The Ninth Circuit strikes again.  The Ninth agreed with a Federal district court that an Idaho law that lets state authorities bring criminal charges against pregnant women who seek abortions by using medications purchased online would likely be found unconstitutional (the Ninth Circuit ruling can be found here).  The Ninth, however, overruled the lower court’s enforcement injunction, saying it was too broad.  Instead, the Ninth substituted its own injunction: state authorities are enjoined only from enforcing the Idaho law against the particular woman who brought the case, not from enforcing the law everywhere else.

The WSJ‘s Law Blog provides a summary of the case:

In May 2011, Mark Hiedeman, the prosecuting attorney in Bannock County, Idaho, brought criminal charges against Jennie Linn McCormack, an unmarried mother of three, after she purchased medications over the Internet in 2010 to terminate her pregnancy.  There are no licensed healthcare providers who offer abortions in southeastern Idaho and Ms McCormack, who didn’t want to have additional children, claimed the medications were prescribed by a physician outside of Bannock County.

The lower court set aside the case against McCormack and enjoined the prosecutor from enforcing the law against anyone on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

Set aside your views of abortion for a moment, and consider what this appellate court has done vis-à-vis the injunction.

The law under which Hiedeman attempted to prosecute McCormack was found by the district court to be unconstitutional, and the Ninth agreed: it is likely be found unconstitutional.  Yet the Ninth then overruled the district court’s injunction against enforcing that law at all.

Their logic centers on the premise that the law has not yet, in fact, been found unconstitutional, and so the original broad injunction went too far.  Yet injunctions, by their nature, are temporary—even permanent ones, which can be withdrawn for any number of reasons at any later date when they’re found no longer to be useful.

So where is the harm done by the lower court’s broader injunction?  The state is harmed by not being able to enforce a law that is, nominally, legitimate.  Women are harmed by being threatened with prosecution—and potentially prosecuted and convicted—for acting as McCormack did and who is protected from prosecution for those same actions by the injunction as modified by the Ninth.  The women who are under the gun here, also are in a time-sensitive situation: their pregnancy must be terminated promptly, or not at all.  We the People are harmed by this court’s announcement that selective enforcement of a law, as a matter of state policy, is entirely legitimate.

This is a rule of law question, regardless of what we might think of the legitimacy of abortion itself.

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