Justice Department Sues Texas Over New Abortion Ban Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Texas law clashes with Supreme Court precedent and could be a model for how states could put other constitutional rights in jeopardy.

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Justice Department Sues Texas Over New Abortion Ban

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SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The Department of Justice will challenge the new Texas abortion law in federal court. That law bans abortions six weeks after pregnancy, and that's before many women realize they're pregnant. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the lawsuit in Washington this afternoon.

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MERRICK GARLAND: The act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent.

DETROW: Joining us now is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, who was at that news conference.

Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: So tell us more about this lawsuit.

JOHNSON: The Justice Department filed this case in the Western District of Texas in Austin. And before the news conference, everyone in the press room and a lot of people around the country kept refreshing their internet browsers, waiting to read the lawsuit. At the news conference, justice officials said the Texas law clashes with decades of Supreme Court precedent on abortion. DOJ says this law deputizes random people in Texas to report doctors, drivers and others who may be helping women to get abortions after six weeks, and the law turns those citizens into a kind of bounty hunter because it allows them to sue and collect $10,000. One more thing, Scott - there are no exceptions in this law for either rape or incest. Here's more from Attorney General Merrick Garland.

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GARLAND: Because this statute makes it too risky for an abortion clinic to stay open, abortion providers have ceased providing services. This leaves women in Texas unable to exercise their constitutional rights and unable to obtain judicial review at the very moment they need it.

DETROW: Carrie, what exactly is the Justice Department asking for here?

JOHNSON: Basically, the federal government's saying the new law in Texas conflicts with federal law, and it wrongfully subjects federal workers at places like the Labor Department and the Pentagon to civil penalties for doing their jobs. They're asking the court for a judgment that the Texas law is invalid under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause and the equal protection language in the 14th Amendment. The DOJ wants a permanent injunction barring anyone in the state of Texas from enforcing this law.

DETROW: The Supreme Court, of course, let this law go into effect last week. Given that, what sort of challenges does the Justice Department face in convincing the judiciary to block this?

JOHNSON: Some big ones. Lawmakers in Texas specifically designed this law to make it hard for anyone to challenge it, and it is hard. Law professors who've been following these issues say they don't know how a judge could stop everyone in the state of Texas or everyone anywhere from enforcing it. And even if the Justice Department convinces a lower court judge to stop this law in its tracks, experts aren't sure what the Supreme Court will do. Still, there's been a sense of urgency within DOJ. Several other Republican-led states have talked about adopting their own versions of this law. DOJ wanted to try to stop that momentum. The attorney general said if the Texas law survives, there's a real risk other states could use this model to put other constitutional rights in jeopardy, too.

DETROW: A lot of Democrats have been clamoring for action from the Justice Department. The Biden administration, going in, said they were going to keep politics out of the Justice Department. So how did the attorney general respond to suggestions that the department had been pressured into acting?

JOHNSON: Yeah. This week, all 23 Democrats from the House Judiciary Committee urged Merrick Garland to use the full force of the Justice Department to block this Texas law. President Biden condemned the law. Vice President Harris has condemned the law. And here's Attorney General Merrick Garland - what he had to say about all of that pressure.

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GARLAND: The Department of Justice does not file lawsuits based on pressure. We carefully evaluated the law and the facts, and this complaint expresses our view about the law and the facts.

JOHNSON: Now, Scott, of course, the Supreme Court is likely to get the final word on that if and when that - this case makes it back up there.

DETROW: Yeah. That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

Carrie, it's always good to talk to you.

JOHNSON: You, too. Thanks, Scott.

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