Justice Dept. sues to void anti-abortion law

The Justice Department is suing to stop the new Texas law that would effectively ban all abortions in the state. “The act is clearly unconstitutional,” says Attorney General Merrick Garland. Andrew Harnik/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department sought to put a quick stop to a restrictive anti-abortion law in Texas after the Supreme Court refused to do so, seeking an emergency injunction to block it long enough for a court to rule it unconstitutional.

The 27-page complaint, filed Thursday in federal court in Austin, Texas, seeks both an immediate and permanent injunction against the law, which bars almost all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

“The act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference.

The Supreme Court refused last week to block the measure, as requested by abortion providers in Texas, while it’s challenged in lower courts.

The law, known as Texas Senate Bill 8, deputizes citizens to sue people who perform or aid in the procedure, allowing them to collect at least $10,000 and legal fees if they succeed in court.

Garland called the law an “unprecedented scheme” using “bounty hunters.”

“The obvious and expressly acknowledged intention of this statutory scheme is to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights by thwarting judicial review for as long as possible,” Garland said. “This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans — whatever their politics or party — should fear.”

The department is seeking a declaratory judgment that the law is invalid under the Supremacy Clause and the 14th Amendment, is preempted by federal law and violates the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity.

The lawsuit comes as the conservative-controlled Supreme Court prepares to hear a Mississippi appeal that seeks to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide.

Neal Katyal, who served as the government’s top Supreme Court lawyer under President Barack Obama, said the procedural issues aren’t all that different from what the Justice Department faced when it sued Arizona a decade ago over its crackdown on illegal immigration. The Supreme Court scaled back the Arizona law in 2012.

“The vigilante provision is tricky but not that hard to create a case around, particularly given the chilling effect,” Katyal said. He said that the lawsuit “tees up a showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court about whether Roe v. Wade is going to be overruled.”

Garland said in a statement Monday that the department was urgently exploring all options to challenge the Texas law. The department will use powers under an existing law to provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is under attack, Garland said then.

Biden said last week that he believed the Justice Department may have some ability to “limit” the legislation, without providing details. He called the law an “assault” on abortion rights.

The case is: U.S. v. State of Texas, 21-cv-00796, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin).

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