In Re: Leslie Rutledge, No. 20-1791 (8th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
The Eighth Circuit granted a writ of mandamus in part and directed the district court to dissolve a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) enjoining the State from enforcing a COVID-19-related health directive against a provider of surgical abortions. The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) issued a directive requiring that all non-medically necessary surgeries be postponed in response to Executive Order 20-03, directing the ADH to do everything reasonably possible to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 virus.
After adopting the Fifth Circuit's reasoning in In re Abbott, No. 20-50264, 2020 WL 1685929 (5th Cir. April 7, 2020), the court held that the State is entitled to mandamus relief because it has satisfied its burden in demonstrating that it has no other means to obtain the relief that it seeks, the State is clearly and indisputably entitled to the writ, and entry of the writ is appropriate under the circumstances.
In Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), the Supreme Court held that, when faced with a public health crisis, a state may implement measures that infringe on constitutional rights, subject to certain limitations. The court found that the district court's failure to apply the Jacobson framework produced a patently erroneous result. In this case, the directive bears a real and substantial relation to the State's interest in protecting public health in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic; the directive is not, beyond all question, a prohibition of pre-viability abortion in violation of the Constitution because it is a delay, not a ban, and contains emergency exceptions; and the district court clearly abused its discretion in finding that the provider is likely to prevail on its argument that the directive will likely operate as a substantial obstacle to a woman's choice to undergo an abortion in a large fraction of the cases in which the directive is relevant. The court declined to exercise its mandamus power to direct the district court to dismiss the supplemental complaint, and denied the emergency motion to stay the ex parte TRO and for a temporary administrative stay as moot.