WASHINGTON (CN) — Responding to the Supreme Court's cabining of a challenge to the six-week abortion ban in Texas, California Governor Gavin Newsom precipitated what could become an avalanche of vigilante litigation with his plan to craft copycat legislation against guns.
No text of the bill is available yet. Newsom explained Saturday only that he will allow private citizens to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells an assault weapon or ghost gun kit or parts in California for $10,000.
The announcement came a day after the high court whittled away at two challenges to Texas’ Senate Bill 8, which bans all abortions after six weeks — before most women know they are pregnant. SB 8 is unique because it has evaded pre-enforcement review by delegating its enforcement to citizens who will be rewarded with a bounty.
Abortion providers sought to challenge the law, but since its enforcement mechanism is so unique, they ran into roadblocks like deciding who to sue to stop the ban. They filed suits against state clerks and judges, officials who have authority over medical licenses, and the attorney general. Only those with authority over medical licenses will face the suit going forward, however, after Friday's largely procedural ruling from the high court's most conservative justices.
“The majority has unfortunately lost the forest for the trees,” Richard Bernstein, an appellate lawyer, said in a phone call about the decision. “They had equitable discretion to expand Ex Parte Young to include state courts when private parties are acting as state prosecutors, as they are here. Either because they got lost in the trees or because of their partisan viewpoint, they chose to ignore that discretion.”
While the court has narrowed what course abortion providers can take as they challenge a law conflicting with longstanding abortion precedent, the cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, it also opened the door for similar legislation in other states focused not only on abortion but any constitutional right the state legislature deems adverse.
“If you care about any constitutional right, you should be concerned about a mechanism that allows states to evade the Constitution and impose these SB 8-like requirements,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a phone call. “Whether it's abortion, whether it's free speech, whether it's the Second Amendment — anything that you care about — you should be concerned about states circumventing their constitutional obligations by doing what Texas did in SB 8.”
By handing the enforcement mechanism over to citizens and creating confusion on how to mount a pre-enforcement challenge to laws, SB 8 allows state legislatures to make laws that conflict with constitutional rights established by the court. The enforcement mechanism is the secret sauce, in a sense. State legislatures have previously made laws conflicting with the court’s precedents. They get challenged before enforcement. Once they make it to the Supreme Court, then the justices can decide to overrule their own precedents. This law skips those steps.
“It really strikes me that the Supreme Court is flirting with lawlessness,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law, said in a phone call. “That is, they are flirting with the idea that a state can intentionally gerrymander its law to avoid constitutional scrutiny under established Supreme Court precedent. Imagine if that was done to avoid enforcement of Second Amendment rights?”
The court was not blind to these consequences — specifically on gun rights — because a gun rights advocacy group, the Firearms Policy Coalition, filed an amicus brief in the abortion providers case specifically asking the court not to create this precedent for fear Democratic states would do exactly what Newsom has threatened.