5th Circuit Denies Louisiana's Request for Writ of Mandamus in Abortion Case

By Laura Temme, Esq. on October 30, 2019

Louisiana is spending a lot of time defending its abortion laws these days. One challenge, seeking to take down a broad swath of regulations, led to the state making a unique request for help from the courts. After a series of back-and-forths in district court, the state petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, asking for a writ of mandamus. Among other things, Louisiana requested that the writ be used to dismiss two counts in the plaintiff's complaint - which the district court declined to do.

Plaintiffs Argue For the Big Picture

The case is unique because it challenges several of Louisiana's state laws under a theory of cumulative effects. The plaintiffs, an abortion clinic and two of its doctors, argued that - when taken as a whole - Louisiana's abortion provisions are unconstitutional. In its May 15th order, the district court explained that the issue of cumulative effects was one of first impression and required interpretation of recent Supreme Court precedent.

The Big Red Button

Louisiana moved to dismiss the plaintiff's claims in district court, arguing that there were jurisdictional issues and the claims were foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent. The court denied the motion but did certify an order for interlocutory appeal (which the plaintiffs later persuaded the court to rescind). After having no luck in having the case dismissed, Louisiana finally threw its Hail Mary: requesting a writ of mandamus from the Court of Appeals.

However, writs of mandamus are rare for a reason: They allow the court to compel another tribunal to act. Hesitant to push that particular big red button, the Fifth Circuit panel found that although there were errors below, a writ of mandamus wasn't warranted. The panel established that because a jurisdictional challenge is non-discretionary, the district court was incorrect to pass on making that determination.

Now, the trial court must review the case to determine whether the plaintiffs have standing to challenge each of the provisions in their claim. Meanwhile, another Louisiana abortion case is set for review by the Supreme Court during its 2019-2020 term.

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