News Law and Policy

Federal Court: Challenge to Louisiana Admitting Privileges Law Can Proceed

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The ruling dismisses a portion of the challenge to the law but lets the underlying challenge to its constitutionality proceed.

A federal judge Tuesday dismissed claims from reproductive rights advocates that a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges was medically unnecessary, but refused the state’s attorneys requests to dismiss the challenge to the requirement altogether.

HB 388, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) last summer, requires all abortion providers carry admitting privileges at area hospitals to practice in the state. Reproductive rights advocates challenged the requirement in August, arguing it was impossible to comply with and unduly burdened abortion rights.

The requirement provided 81 days for doctors to obtain the required admitting privileges, which can take anywhere from 90 days to seven months to obtain, depending on each hospital’s process.

A federal court in August issued a temporary restraining order allowing the provision to take effect but blocking enforcement of the law while the providers tried to obtain the required privileges. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John deGravelles continued that line of split decisions and threw out a portion of reproductive rights advocates’ challenge to the law but refused to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.

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Tuesday’s ruling came on a motion for partial summary judgment, a procedural method of narrowing the legal issues a court considers for trial.

Attorneys defending Louisiana’s requirement asked the court to dismiss providers’ claims that the admitting privileges requirement “imposes a medically unreasonable requirement,” and that it has “the improper purpose of placing an undue burden on abortion access in Louisiana.”

Citing earlier decisions from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in similar admitting privileges challenges in Texas and Mississippi, the Louisiana court dismissed providers’ claims that the admitting privileges requirement was medically unreasonable, ruling states only need to provide a “rational basis” for such restrictions.

Because the Fifth Circuit had previously held admitting privileges requirements reasonable in Texas and Mississippi, the Louisiana court ruled that it was required to do the same here.

But deGravelles refused to dismiss the lawsuit entirely, ruling there was still a question as to whether the GOP-majority Louisiana legislature passed the law with an improper purpose, and the effect the law would have on abortion access.

Ilene Jaroslaw, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead attorney in the case, was pleased with the ruling despite the minor setback.

“Yesterday’s ruling elevates facts over misinformation and provides another important victory in exposing the sham of Louisiana’s clinic shutdown law,” Jaroslaw said in a statement. “Women should never have their rights stripped away based on false pretenses and we are confident the court will continue to protect the health and safety of Louisiana women as the case continues.”

Advocates’ challenge to the law will proceed, but with a slightly narrower focus, thanks to Tuesday’s order. In the meantime, DeGravelles ordered the state not to enforce the admitting privileges requirement against those doctors who have applied for privileges and are still waiting on responses.

The admitting privileges requirement remains in effect, however, while the legal challenge to its constitutionality proceeds.

News Law and Policy

Wisconsin GOP’s Voter Restriction Law Suffers Another Legal Blow

Imani Gandy

In blocking many of Wisconsin's elections restrictions, the lower court ruled that the state must reform how it deals with voters who have difficulty obtaining the required photo ID to vote.

A federal appeals court yesterday refused to stay a lower court order blocking several Wisconsin voting restrictions, allowing election officials to move forward with early voting in the state next month.

Attorneys on behalf of the state of Wisconsin filed the request for a stay with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court judge last month issued an injunction that blocked parts of Wisconsin’s sweepings elections laws.

The lower court ruled that the justification for the laws did not justify the burden on voting rights that they impose. And this week a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit declined to stay that ruling, without explaining.

The ruling comes days after elections officials in Madison and Milwaukee announced their intention to kick off early voting in late September, a month earlier than would have been allowed had the lower court not struck down the restrictions on early voting, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

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The Republican-backed elections law created state-imposed limitations on the time and location for in-person absentee voting, a provision requiring absentee ballots be sent by mail instead of fax or email, the requirement that dorm lists—a certified list provided by the university of the students living in college housing, which student voters may use as proof of residence—must include citizenship information, a ban on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs to establish proof of residency, and a 28-day durational residency requirement.

In blocking many of Wisconsin’s elections restrictions, the lower court ruled that the state must reform how it deals with voters who have difficulty obtaining the required photo ID to vote. Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the GOP-controlled Wisconsin legislature had implemented a system under which people who don’t have birth certificates or who have problems with gathering documentation needed to obtain the proper identification would still be able to vote.

The lower court noted that the Walker administration’s system did not provide a viable long-term solution for those voters who could not obtain their birth certificates because they were destroyed in fires or misplaced by bureaucrats.

The court later stayed that portion of the ruling, stating that the system created by Walker’s administration—which provides people with temporary voting credentials while they await a decision about whether they qualify for an ID—was sufficient to allow people to vote during the upcoming November election and therefore does not need to be immediately reformed.

The ruling comes on the heels of a ruling in another voting rights case in Wisconsin, Frank v. Walker, about the state’s voter ID law. In that case, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit stayed a ruling that would have permitted anyone eligible to vote in Wisconsin to an accommodation that would permit that voter to cast a ballot after signing an affidavit stating that they could not easily obtain an ID.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

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