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Justice Department Sues Texas Over Six Week Abortion Ban

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The Justice Department is suing Texas to block the state's abortion law. That law bans abortions six weeks after pregnancy, before many people realize that they're pregnant. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the lawsuit yesterday.

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MERRICK GARLAND: The act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent.

MARTINEZ: Here to discuss is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, OK, lay out this lawsuit for us.

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

MARTINEZ: What's been the reaction so far out of Texas?

JOHNSON: Well, a spokeswoman for Governor Greg Abbott says they're confident the courts will uphold and protect what they call the right to life. Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton called this lawsuit a misguided effort. He thinks the Biden administration should focus on the border, Afghanistan and the economy. But the Texas Democratic Party issued a statement to support the Justice Department, saying this abortion ban in the state is, quote, "uniquely harmful, exceptionally cruel and blatantly unconstitutional."

A, this is a really thorny issue. Lawmakers in Texas designed this law to make it hard for anyone to challenge. It is. Law professors who've been following these issues say they don't know how a judge might be able to stop everyone in the state of Texas from enforcing this law, even if the Justice Department convinces lower courts to block the law. It's not clear what the U.S. Supreme Court is going to do when it gets back up there again. But there's been a sense of urgency inside the Justice Department because several other Republican-led states have talked about adopting their own versions of this law. Here's Attorney General Merrick Garland again.

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GARLAND: The additional and further risk here is that other states will follow similar models with respect not only to this constitutional right but, theoretically, against any constitutional right and in any other state.

MARTINEZ: Carrie, I know Democrats really wanted the Justice Department to act. How did the attorney general respond to suggestions that the department had been pressured?

JOHNSON: There has been pressure here. All 23 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee urged Merrick Garland to use the full force of the Justice Department to block this law. President Biden, Vice President Harris have condemned the law. And abortion rights groups have really been pressing for more action, too. Here's what Attorney General Garland had to say about all that yesterday.

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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.

MARTINEZ: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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