By Jake Kaplan

Here are some of the legal news stories making headlines this week:

Late Wednesday night, the Supreme Court rejected a request to block enforcement of Texas’s new restrictive abortion law.

  • The abortion law took effect earlier on Wednesday, becoming one of the most restrictive in the nation. The law bans abortions after a doctor detects a fetal heartbeat — which usually occurs around six weeks of pregnancy. Current Supreme Court precedents prohibit banning abortions before fetal viability, which is around 24 weeks.
  • The new Texas law is unlike prior attempts to restrict abortion access in that it puts enforcement of the law in the hands of private citizens, not the state. This means that individuals can sue, among others, clinics and doctors, who violate the law. Successful plaintiffs may collect damages of at least $10,000. 
  • In the application to the Court, the abortion providers argued that the law “would immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas, barring care for at least 85 percent of Texas abortion patients (those who are six weeks pregnant or greater) and likely forcing many abortion clinics ultimately to close.”
  • Despite acknowledging that the challengers had “raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law,” five of the Court’s conservative justices decided to let the law stand. 
  • Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan all filed separate dissents. Justice Sotomayor wrote, “A majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand … the Act is a breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas.”

The Department of Education is launching investigations into five states over bans on mask mandates in schools.

  • The Department’s Office for Civil Rights will investigate mask bans in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.
  • In letters to the top public school officials  in the states, the Department argued that by banning mask mandates, states “may be preventing schools … from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”
  • According to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, “It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve. The Department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely and the rights of local educators to put in place policies that allow all students to return to the classroom full-time in-person safely this fall.”