More on the Mandatory Sonogram Law and Chief Judge Edith Jones

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Yesterday, the 5th Circuit court overturned US District Judge Sam Sparks' decision to block enforcement of Texas' insane and invasive mandatory sonogram law while he conducted the trial over its constitutionality. Here's some of the more pertinent information we've learned and read overnight on this issue.

When does the law take effect?

    The 5th Circuit ruled that the law can be enforced as of January 31. Doctors who do not comply with the law risk losing their medical license. That's right–doctors who don't want to be an ideological stooge of Texas Republicans' anti-women agenda can lose their medical license if they refuse to provide unnecessary information to women seeking abortions.

What about the original trial?

    Sparks has a summary judgment hearing scheduled for January 20. When he will make his ruling is unknown, though Sparks is expected to indicate when that ruling might occur on the 20th. The trial considers a wider range of issues than just whether the bill is indeed unconstitutional by denying doctors their free speech rights. If he rules that HB15, the Sonogram bill, is indeed no bueno before the date it is slated to be enforced, then it won't go into effect.

Can the State appeal?

    Yes, and if they do, the case goes back to the 5th Circuit, where Chief Judge Edith Jones smacked down Sparks' temporary restraining order against the law. That's bad news, since arch conservative Jones seems to have a personal vendetta against Roe v. Wade. She has written in opinions that she hopes SCOTUS revisits Roe soon, stating that the Court “might conclude that the woman's 'choice' is far more risky and less beneficial.”

Wow, that's nuts. Who is this this Edith person, anyways?

    Glad you asked! Chief Judge Edith Jones was appointed by Reagan to the 5th Circuit in 1985. Prior to that, Jones was General Counsel for the Republican Party of Texas, as well as a lawyer in private practice in Houston. She has been described as the “Susan Lucci” of SCOTUS nominations. Her name is always bandied about by conservative activists and Presidential administrations when a vacancy opens up, but she never gets the nod. Republicans from Reagan to Bush I to Bush II have floated her name, but the far-right ideologue never gets to the point of an upperdown in the Senate, let alone the robes and frilly white collar of the highest court in the land. However, as this case shows, that doesn't prevent her from trying to chip away at Roe.

    Jones is the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which hears cases from Lousiana, Mississippi, and Texas. The 5th Circuit considered to be the most conservative federal appeals court in the country. Per Think Progress, this is the court that sanctioned a cheerleader for suing her school district after she was forced to cheer for her rapist. On the court, Jones has written a variety of heinous anti-woman dissents. One denied overt claims of sexual harassment, suggesting that a woman needed to be raped to claim actual harassment. In another, she told a molestation victim that there is no benefit in recognizing “a constitutional right not to have her bodily integrity compromised by a teacher's sexual abuse.” Want more? Read this run-down of her visit to Harvard Law's Federalist Society posted on conservative blog Red State.

    It is worth reminding everyone that virulently anti-women justices like this get appointed by Republican administrations. You like choice? You like women making their own medical decisions? You want to avoid going back to the days of back-alley abortions and septic wards? If you have women in your lives who you think actually have the right to choose for themselves, you probably want to vote for a Democrat. There's just no room in the other party for pro-choice Republicans. Heck, even Mitt Romney isn't pro-choice anymore.

What's the deal with Edith Jones? Does she, like, hate women or something?

    Well, she certainly has some patronizing attitudes towards our ability to decide what we do with our own bodies. Patrick Michels over at the Texas Observer writes as follows:

    Jones follows the same logic that drove Perry, Patrick, and the law's House author, Rep. Sid Miller: A woman going in for an abortion doesn't really know what she wants. During the session, Patrick said the bill “empowers” women.

    Jones also points out that it's important to mandate that the sonogram's performed, precisely because the woman might change her mind.

    OMG you gals! We are really incapable of making important choices. It's amazing we're even allowed to vote, own property, and take out credit cards in our names. Next thing you know we'll be running for office! Clutch those pearls.

    It just floors me, absolutely floors me, when women adopt this patronizing misogyny. Hey Edith, I am sure there are plenty of menfolk out there who didn't want you appointed to the 5th Circuit bench for life because the monthly fluctuations of your womb might cause you to rule erratically on matters of utmost importance. You know, Edith, you were the first female partner at Andrews Kurth, a major law firm in Texas. I bet a few of those good old boys didn't want you sharing in the firm profits, since obviously by your own logic women aren't fit to make major decisions.

    Women like Edith Jones are tools of the patriarchy, appointed by men to promote an anti-woman agenda so that those same men can say “See? Even this woman agrees that women are incapable of exercising their rights.” I bet she and Dan Patrick get along really well. Hey Edith, what should I have for lunch today? I'm not fit to decide what to do with my own body.

Did you have any other points you wanted to make about Circuit Court judges?

    Actually, I did! Washington Monthly has a must-read article in their current issue about how Conservatives have almost completely taken over the American judiciary. If a Republican is elected in 2012, the transformation will be complete, as Justices Ginsberg and Kennedy could both retire or need to be replaced in the next four years.

    But what's happening on the Circuit Court level is just as important. From the Washington Monthly article, emphasis mine:

    But it's not just the Supreme Court that would tilt further right. The high court only hears seventy-some cases each year. The vast majority of disputes are resolved by the federal appellate courts, which are the last stop for almost every federal litigant in the country. And the one legacy of which George W. Bush can be most proud is his fundamental transformation of the lower federal judiciary-a change that happened almost completely undetected by the left. At a Federalist Society meeting in 2008, Bush boasted that he had seated more than a third of the federal judges expected to be serving when he left office, most of them younger and more conservative than their colleagues, all tenured for life and in control of the majority of the federal circuit courts of appeals. The consequences of that change at the appeals court level were as profound as they were unnoticed. As Charlie Savage of the New York Times put it at the time, the Bush judges “have been more likely than their colleagues to favor corporations over regulators and people alleging discrimination, and to favor government over people who claim rights violations. They have also been more likely to throw out cases on technical grounds, like rejecting plaintiffs' standing to sue.” In short, they have copied and amplified the larger trends at the Roberts Court: a jurisprudence that skews pro-business, pro-life, anti-environment, and toward entangling the church with the state. Under the rhetorical banners of “modesty” and “humility” and “strict construction,” the rightward shift has done more to restore a pre-New Deal legal landscape than any legislative or policy change might have done.

    Obama hasn't been able to fill most of the vacancies in Circuit Courts because Republicans have used every trick in the book to block nominees from coming up to a vote. Several qualified applicants have even withdrawn from the process. Meanwhile, litigants are waiting years for their cases to be heard. Go read the rest here. Yowza.

Wow. this is all really bringing me down. Thanks a lot.

    Too many women–and men who have sex with women–think that the right to a legal abortion is totally safe. Ladies and gents, think again. Women, Republicans are trying to literally shove a wand into your body without your consent, and force you to listen to a bunch of medically unnecessary claptrap while your feet are in the stirrups. They don't think you're fit to make your own decisions about your body. Your rights are under assault–and not just your ability to get an abortion, but also your ability to get birth control, emergency contraception. Republicans are even trying to make it so that insurance doesn't have to pay for all or part of any of these procedures and medical services.

    There are a few good ways to stop this assault on womens' basic reproductive rights.

    • Support the pro-choice organization of your choosing. (Get it? Choosing?) Here in Texas, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and Lilith Fund all do amazing work to help women exercise their right to choose. Give your time or your funds. Disclaimer: I am on the board of NARAL-TX and donate vigorously to all three organizations.
    • Don't vote for anti-choice zealots–the vast majority whom are Republicans, but there are certainly a few stinkers in the Democratic party too–who want to take away women's rights. Instead, support candidates who run against these anti-choicers.
    • Tell your friends. Share this post and the other stories about the sonogram lawsuit. Tell your friends, whether they're women or men who have sex with women or people who care about female human beings in general.

    Look, I don't meant to be hyperbolic, but abortion rights are under attack. 24 states enacted 92 abortion restrictions in 2011. From sonograms to waiting periods to insurance denials, Republican legislatures are working hard to make sure a woman can't actually get an abortion, or be able to pay for it. Republicans are doing everything they can to erect procedural barriers to a woman actually getting the abortion she has chosen.

    It is pretty scary stuff, and will have the most drastically negative impact on women who are lower income, younger, in abusive relationships, or otherwise disadvantaged. But as these restrictions keep getting more and more, well, restrictive, even wealthy SMU sorority girls will start to feel their rights getting clamped down on. Maybe then we'll finally see some bipartisan outrage on this issue.

Now I'm just more depressed. Hey, can you show me that bitterly ironic graphic of the sonogram procedure mandated by the law?

    Sure, I aim to please. Here you go:

Previously on BOR:


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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