Supreme Court Finds Kentucky Attorney General May Defend Pro-Life Law Abandoned By Governor

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Kentucky’s Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron is legally authorized to defend a pro-life state law that has not been executed by the Democratic Governor Andy Beshear.

The 8-1 decision in Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center enforced a 2018 law signed by former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. The law bans “dismemberment abortions,” medically described as dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedures. The process involves tearing unborn children apart limb by limb to accomplish the abortion.

The pro-abortion Beshear replaced Bevin in 2019 when pro-life Cameron took office as attorney general.

The federal Sixth Circut Court of Appeal ruled against the law in 2019, which constitutes an “undue burden” on persons seeking abortions. That court also denied Cameron’s application to defend the law in court after Kentucky’s Health & Family Services Cabinet Secretary Eric Friedlander decided not to appeal the decision striking down the law.

A group of 20 states filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting Cameron’s position, arguing that the Sixth Circuit deprived Kentucky of a complete appellate review of the original trial court decision against the law. A single state official eliminated the power to seek judicial review, which decided to abandon the defense of a validly enacted state law.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion. He stated there is no provision of law that prohibits the attorney general from filing a notice of appeal of the adverse decision by the Sixth Circuit. He noted that Cameron immediately learned that Secretary Friedlander would not defend the law in court.

The only dissenter was liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote that Cameron had stipulated to his dismissal and consented to have another state official “represent Kentucky’s interests.”

The ruling does not make a final disposition of the Kentucky pro-life statute. Still, it does present precedent for the discretion of attorney generals of different political parties than state governors have when defending laws in court.

The decision comes as the country awaits the final ruling in a major abortion case involving a pro-life law from Mississippi. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the State of Mississippi has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that prohibits states from most abortion regulations before fetal viability. A final ruling in the case is expected before the end of the court’s current term in June.