Kentucky Politics

The U.S Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday over whether Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron is allowed to defend a Kentucky abortion law that was struck down by a federal court.

The blocked law at the center of the case passed in 2018. It would ban a common abortion procedure called “dilation and evacuation.”.

Former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin defended the law until he lost reelection in 2019. The following year, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that struck down the law and Gov. Andy Beshear declined to continue defending the case.

Cameron is asking the high court to let him intervene. During the Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Matthew Kuhn argued Cameron’s office should be allowed to continue appealing the case.

“The fact of the Sixth Circuit’s ruling is to say to a sovereign state that you just can’t structure your government that way, you cannot defend your sovereign interests the way you want to do so,” Kuhn said.

A federal court struck down Kentucky’s ban on dilation and evacuation abortions in 2019, saying it would have created a “substantial obstacle” for women seeking the procedure.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing wasn’t over the merits of the anti-abortion law, but about whether Cameron has the right to defend it even though Beshear declined to continue doing so.

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an attorney with the ACLU, which sued to block the law in the first place, said Cameron shouldn’t be allowed to intervene in the case.

“The attorney general, it is well-settled in this court, stands in the shoes of his predecessors,” Kolbi-Molinas said. “It is well-settled that a successor in office is bound by the stipulations and judgments against their predecessors. It doesn’t matter that there’s been a political party change.”

Justice Stephen Breyer asked why Cameron shouldn’t be allowed to intervene if state law allows him to do so.

“Why can’t he just come in and defend the law?” Breyer asked. “He may lose for the reasons that you say, but I don’t see why he can’t. If Kentucky allows him to make the argument, why can’t he make the argument?”

Chief Justice John Roberts also asked why the attorney general wouldn’t be able to intervene in the case if the governor isn’t defending the law anymore.

“Kentucky maybe ought to be there in some form and the attorney general is the one who wants to intervene,” Roberts said.

“The deck is shuffled again after an election and the question is whether you want to preclude the state from participating in the litigation that is still ongoing.”

If the court rules in favor of Cameron, he says he’ll ask the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case over Kentucky’s ban on dilation and evacuation abortions.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.