On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Pitman is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Texas' new anti-abortion law, S.B. 8 in the federal government's Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction [PDF]. He is likely to rule in favor of the federal government.
If granted, the ruling by Judge Pitman, an Obama appointee, would temporarily prevent enforcement of the new Texas statute banning pre-viability abortions performed on or after 6 weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant. That preliminary injunction would, for now, restore the status quo ante --- the state of the law in Texas prior to Sept. 1, 2021, when S.B. 8 first went into effect.
Unless overturned on appeal, the preliminary injunction would then remain in effect pending a final decision on the legal issues raised by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in the federal Complaint it filed in United States v. Texas.
The issuance of a temporary injunction by Judge Pitman would not be inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's recent 5-4 rejection of a private medical provider's similar request for an injunction in Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson, the initial federal challenge to the Lone Star State's new law.
As the DOJ argues in its filing, no one, not even Texas, contends that S.B. 8's pre-viability abortion ban --- one that also contains no exception for unwanted pregnancies due to rape or incest --- is Constitutional under existing federal law. To the contrary, even in the first case, Whole Women's Health, the right-wing Supreme Court majority conceded the medical provider plaintiff "raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law at issue".
The core problem which prevented the issuance of an injunction in the initial case arose from "uncertainties" both as to federal court jurisdiction and whether any of the named defendants in that case could lawfully be the subject of a federal court injunction.
Those "uncertainties" arose because S.B. 8 was specifically designed to prevent challenges to its constitutionality in federal courts. The statute was crafted to prevent the Executive Branch of state government from enforcing the 6-week abortion ban. Instead, according to the DOJ's Complaint, S.B. 8 "deputized ordinary citizens to serve as bounty hunters who are statutorily authorized to recover $10,000 per claim from individuals who facilitate a woman's exercise of her constitutional rights."
In Whole Woman's Health, a legal concept known as State sovereign immunity prevented the plaintiff from naming Texas as a defendant. Because the statute prevents enforcement of the Act by members of the state's Executive Branch, the private medical provider was unable to seek an injunction against anyone working for that branch of the Lone Star State. There's legal uncertainty as to whether the State court judge, who was a named defendant in the case, could be enjoined by a federal court. The only potential private "bounty hunter" named in the medical provider's complaint filed an affidavit with the U.S. Supreme Court, asserting he had no present intent to file an S.B. 8 enforcement lawsuit.
The Supreme Court's "shadow docket" majority decision held that those "uncertainties" warranted a denial of the private medical provider's request for injunctive relief in Whole Women's Health. However, that same majority expressly noted their decision "in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law."
Texas cannot assert sovereign immunity when it is directly sued by the federal government in a case that alleges a State enactment violates the sovereignty of the United States. Thus, the DOJ's case, United States v. Texas, is a "procedurally proper" challenge...