The lawsuit alleges that Texas’s restrictive anti-abortion law infringes both upon women’s constitutional rights and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The Justice Department has followed through on its promise to launch a lawsuit against Texas and a new state law banning most abortions.
In a statement announcing the challenge, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that Texas’s law was passed and enacted “in open defiance of the Constitution.”
Now, Garland and the Biden administration are asking the federal judiciary to declare the law invalid, and to “enjoin its enforcement, and to protect the rights that Texas has violated.”
“The act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent,” Garland said in a Thursday conference.
According to The Associated Press, the Department of Justice argues that Texas’s new law illegally infringes upon the constitutional rights of women. The agency also says that Texas’s anti-abortion statute infringes upon the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says that federal law shall always supersede state law.
With other conservative-dominated states following or planning to follow Texas’s example, the Biden administration is afraid that such states could enact similar laws, thereby “[depriving] their citizens of their constitutional rights.”
“It is settled constitutional law that ‘a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,” the lawsuit asserts. “But Texas has done just that.”
Texas’s law, as LegalReader.com has reported before, effectively bans any abortion after cardiac activity has been detected.
In general, doctors can detect cardiac activity in an embryo as early as six weeks into pregnancy—oftentimes before a woman knows she is carrying.
While other states have imposed or tried to impose abortion bans—many of which have failed to pass the courts—Texas’s legislation uses a novel strategy.
Although Texas prohibits abortions after cardiac activity has been detected, the state itself provides no criminal penalties for getting or facilitating an abortion. Instead, Texas allows private citizens to enforce the law, permitting anyone—anywhere—to file a lawsuit against persons suspected of having or aiding an “illegal” abortion.
Persons filing such lawsuits may seek a minimum of $10,000 in statutory damages.
“The statute deputizes all private citizens, without any showing of personal connection or injury, to serve as bounty hunters authorized to recover at least $10,000 per claim from individuals who facilitate a woman’s exercise of her constitutional rights,” Garland said on Thursday. “The obvious and expressly acknowledged intention of this statutory scheme is to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights by thwarting judicial review.”
Texas law provides no exceptions for women who are the victims of rape or incest. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said that such exceptions are not necessary, both because women can still get an abortion before six weeks, and because the state plans to “eliminate all rapists from the streets.”
Abbott’s office has already criticized the lawsuit.
“The most precious freedom is life itself,” said Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze. “Texas passed a law that the life of every child with a heartbeat will be spared from the ravages of abortion.”
In the meantime, the federal government and its allies, including the American Civil Liberties Union, believe the lawsuit will move swiftly and may reach the Supreme Court within the coming weeks.