All Rise!

Talk about a thankless task for a federal judge – decide a hotly-contested lawsuit over the constitutionality of Texas’ new abortion law, the one that gained national attention earlier this year when State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis filibustered the original bill to death on the floor of the Texas Senate. No matter how you rule, someone will excoriate your judgment for the “position” taken on this most thorny of political issues.    
So Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin did exactly what judges are supposed to do – decide the case before him based on the law, not his personal view of the matter, which he appropriately did not discuss. Along the way, he gave us a succinct and thoughtful lesson on how courts work and, by implication, why they are different than legislatures:
“Today there is no issue that divides the people of this country more than abortion. . . . Sincere and caring persons of good will are found on both sides of the issue, but neither side will ever change the position of the other. Legislatures and courts will continue to be confounded by the issue for the foreseeable future. No ruling of this court will sway the opinion regarding abortion held by anyone. And, indeed, that is not the role of this court. The court may not and will not decide whether there should be abortions in Texas. This court is charged only with determining whether certain provisions of House Bill 2 are consistent with the Constitution of the United States under existing Supreme Court precedent. (emphasis added).”

Judges don’t get to decide which cases they hear – they are assigned randomly by the clerk’s office – so a judge does not have the option of declining to rule on a difficult and divisive case simply because it will draw unwanted attention.  Read Judge Yeakel’s full opinion, and you will see a textbook example of a judge dispassionately outlining the law and applying the related facts. You may not agree with the result – and perhaps no one will – but he did precisely what we expect of our judges.  

Judge Yeakel correctly speculates that his will likely not be the last word on this case; the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will review his ruling and issue its own opinion, and the U.S. Supreme Court may decide to review the case as well. 

But the professional manner in which Judge Yeakel handled his responsibilities provides an excellent first example of the judicial branch at work.    


Posted: 10/29/2013 2:30:34 PM by Editor | with 0 comments

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About This Blog

Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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