14:04, June 04 40 0 abajournal.com

2018-06-04 14:04:06
Supreme Court vacates decision in oft-relisted teen abortion case; ACLU lawyers not sanctioned

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday vacated a federal appeals court decision that allowed a 17-year-old immigrant to get an abortion while being held in a shelter for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The court accepted the case and vacated the decision, saying the issue was moot because the teen had obtained the abortion on Oct. 25, the day after the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The case, Azar v. Garza, had been relisted more than 15 times. The court relists a case when it considers a cert petition at a conference but takes no action.

Not every moot case warrants vacating a lower court decision, but circumstances favored doing so in the teen’s case, the court said in its per curiam decision. The court pointed to “voluntary, unilateral action” to take the teen for an abortion “sooner than initially anticipated,” which allowed her to retain the benefit of the appellate decision.

The government had asked the high court to sanction lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union for allegedly misleading them on the timing of the abortion. The Supreme Court declined to rule on the issue.

Government lawyers believed the teen was leaving the Texas shelter last October for required abortion counseling, rather than the abortion itself. As a result, the government did not seek emergency review before the abortion was performed.

Texas law says abortion counseling and the abortion must be provided by the same physician, and they must be separated by at least 24 hours. According to the government, the teen’s lawyers represented that a doctor who had already counseled the teen was not available to perform the abortion. The government believed a new doctor would counsel the teen on Oct. 25 and the abortion would be performed on Oct. 26. As a result, the government had notified opposing counsel it would file a stay application the morning of Oct. 25.

But the former doctor became available and performed the abortion at 4:15 a.m. on Oct. 25.

The government had said “material misrepresentations and omissions” by the teen’s lawyers were designed to thwart review, while the ACLU lawyers said the accusations were “baseless.” The Supreme Court said it didn’t need to “delve into the factual disputes,” while noting the arguments on both sides.

“The court takes allegations like those the government makes here seriously, for ethical rules are necessary to the maintenance of a culture of civility and mutual trust within the legal profession,” the court said. “On the one hand, all attorneys must remain aware of the principle that zealous advocacy does not displace their obligations as officers of the court.

“Especially in fast-paced, emergency proceedings like those at issue here, it is critical that lawyers and courts alike be able to rely on one another’s representations. On the other hand, lawyers also have ethical obligations to their clients and not all communication breakdowns constitute misconduct.”

An ACLU lawyer who is representing the teen, Brigitte Amiri, told the Washington Post that the decision doesn’t affect a broader challenge to the government policy against taking teens in immigration custody for abortions.