Supreme Court Reverses 6th Circuit, Allows Kentucky Attorney General to Defend Abortion Law

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Kentucky’s Republican attorney general should be allowed to defend the constitutionality of the state’s abortion law in court after the Democratic governor refused to do so, the Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision on March 3.

Although Kentucky’s abortion law itself wasn’t at issue at the case, this is the court’s first opinion in an abortion-related case since Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s addition to the bench in October 2020 gave its conservative wing a 6–3 majority.

The high court examined only whether Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron should be allowed to intervene in the case on behalf of his state after the trial court invalidated the law and its decision was upheld by an appeals court.

Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, had refused to defend the statute in court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit turned down Cameron’s request to take over state representation in the case.

The case revolves around Kentucky’s 2018 ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions on unborn children.

After the Supreme Court hearing, Cameron described the procedure as “gruesome,” adding that “it rips the baby apart.”

Then-Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, signed House Bill 454, the Human Rights of Unborn Children Act, which stopped such abortions after 11 weeks of pregnancy and was subsequently enjoined by federal courts.

Oral arguments in the case, Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, court file 20-601, were heard on Oct. 12, 2021. The respondent, EMW Women’s Surgical Center, in Louisville, is Kentucky’s only licensed abortion clinic.

The court’s opinion (pdf) was written by Justice Samuel Alito.

In the document, Alito noted that “The importance of ensuring that states have a fair opportunity to defend their laws in federal court has been recognized by Congress.”

He wrote that the 6th Circuit panel erred by failing “to account for the strength of the Kentucky attorney general’s interest in taking up the defense of HB 454” when other state officials chose not to continue defending the statute.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion.

The Supreme Court has bent “over backward to accommodate the attorney general’s reentry into the case,” Sotomayor wrote.

“I fear today’s decision will open the floodgates for government officials to evade the consequences of litigation decisions made by their predecessors of different political parties, undermining finality, and upsetting the settled expectations of courts, litigants, and the public alike.”

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

Matthew Vadum


Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.

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