Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was the only dissenter in a high court decision that vacated a lower court ruling earlier this week allowing minors the right to go to court to get permission to seek an abortion.
The top U.S. court overturned a ruling issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and remanded the case to the court with instructions to dismiss. The appeals court ruling in April (pdf) said a state court clerk could face a lawsuit for telling a pregnant teenager that the court must inform her parents of her bid to obtain a court order to receive an abortion without her parents’ approval.
In its order Monday (pdf), the Supreme Court issued no opinion or explanation for why. No other justice issued any objection to the high court’s action, which was announced as part of its routine slate of orders that were handed down.
But Jackson wrote a four-page dissent that argued justices have been too accepting in granting requests from parties who seek to nullify rulings from lower courts. She criticized the Supreme Court’s use of Munsingwear vacatur, a legal doctrine that is sometimes used to clear away lower court decisions.
The Munsingwear doctrine allows appeals courts, including the Supreme Court, to erase a precedent if it becomes moot while a losing party is appealing the decision and a higher court is reviewing the case.
“I am concerned that contemporary practice related to so called ‘Munsingwear vacaturs’ has drifted away from the doctrine’s foundational moorings,” Jackson wrote Monday.
In the case, Jane Doe, a pregnant minor, visited a local Missouri courthouse to apply for a dispensation allowing her to not receive consent from her parents for an abortion. But the office of the petitioner, Michelle Chapman—a clerk for Randolph County—told Doe that she couldn’t do so without notifying a parent.
Ultimately, Doe got an abortion in Illinois after a court in the state authorized it without her parents’ knowledge. She later filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal district court targeting Chapman and claimed the clerk violated her 14th Amendment rights, although Chapman argued that she was immune to lawsuits because she followed a Missouri statute and a judge’s directions.