WASHINGTON (SBG) - Right now, at least 20 lawsuits are snaking their way through state and federal courts with the potential to reach the United States Supreme Court and cause the justices there to take a fresh look at the nation's abortion laws.
At the center of the storm, once again, is the nation’s highest court, where Chief Justice John G. Roberts, now serving his 14th term, could emerge as the critical swing vote in any ruling on abortion. With two new justices joining Roberts over the last two years, and a third, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, soon to turn 86.
Ginsburg's recent absence due to cancer surgery fueled a new round of retirement speculation.
The prospect of President Donald Trump nominating a third justice has activists on both sides of the abortion issue wondering if Roe v. Wade, the landmark 19-73 decision that legalized abortion, or Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 19-92 decision that upheld roe, could be overturned.
“I hope that abortion limitations will be further implemented and allowed, because they've been stymied at the Supreme Court. But I'm very surprised to see Roe go away altogether,” said Jeanne Mancini, President, March for Life.
When nominated, Roberts portrayed Roe v. Wade as "settled law," but hinted at a willingness to revisit Casey.
“[Y]ou don’t go straight to the Roe decision; you begin with Casey, which modified the Roe framework and reaffirmed its central holding,” said Justice Roberts as a Supreme Court Nominee on Sept. 13, 2005.
Last month, however, Roberts voted with the court's liberal wing to issue a temporary block against a Louisiana law that would have required abortion providers to secure admitting privileges at nearby hospitals; in a case that is expected to return to the high court for final ruling this term.
“We cannot infer that he will necessarily vote the same way when the case comes up for a full review,” said Paul Schiff Berman a George Washington University law professor. “It may also signal that he's not willing to push the newfound majority in a really, really strong direction.”
Exactly how Chief Justice Roberts will rule on any future abortion case is unknown. But in rare interviews and speeches, he has alluded to the responsibility of the chief to protect public perceptions of the Court as a pillar of the law, not an entity given to social engineering.