Juliet Becker, Online Feature Editor
// “If states can now shield their laws from review by the federal courts that compare assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, then California will use that authority to protect people’s lives, where Texas used it to put women in harm’s way,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Dec. 11, 2021 press release.
The abortion law that Texas passed in September 2021 bans all abortions after six weeks in Texas with no exceptions for rape or incest. The law states that private citizens can sue abortion providers without standing for at least $10 thousand, leaving citizens to enforce the law instead of prosecutors. Using this same legal loophole, Newsom passed legislation on Feb. 18 for assault rifle and “ghost-gun” sales in California that allows citizens to take similar action against gun vendors and manufacturers.
A primary issue with these laws is that both violate previous Supreme Court decisions. Texas’s law is in direct violation of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade which determined that the Constitution of the United States grants people the right to choose to have an abortion. Roe v. Wade does not state a time limit on which people can receive abortions, meaning the six-week limit violates the precedent. However, Roe v. Wade was not the last Supreme Court case regarding abortion. Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 case, established that individual states can place restrictions on access to abortion.
Despite these decisions, a major argument for abortion restriction is that the Constitution does not explicitly establish people’s right to choose. Many opponents of abortion argue that the pro-choice argument warps the words in the Constitution to fit their agenda. Regardless of either side’s interpretations of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has the final say on whether or not laws are Constitutional.
The law that Newsom proposed challenges the Supreme Court’s overturning of California’s longstanding ban on assault weapons. California enacted the Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act in 1989 as a result of the Cleveland Elementary School shooting, where Patrick Purdy killed five elementary schoolers with a semi-automatic rifle in Stockton. The Supreme Court overturned the law in June 2021 because the AR-15 is “good for both home and battle,” as U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez stated in his ruling’s introduction.
Since California’s gun control law and Texas’s abortion law both contradict Supreme Court rulings, they contradict judicial review, the Supreme Court’s power to determine what laws are Constitutional as well as overrule state legislation. The second paragraph of Article VI of the Constitution, commonly called the “Supremacy Clause,” states that the federal court’s rulings trump all state decisions.
I acknowledge that Newsom’s political tactic in this situation might be to prove how ridiculous Texas’s law is and to show the mostly-conservative Supreme Court how their decisions look in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. As much as Newsom may want fewer guns in California, the purpose of this law is not to limit the number of assault weapons on the streets. It is to challenge the Supreme Court.
However, if the Supreme Court stands by their Texas decision and decides to enact both laws, it would be detrimental to citizens’ rights, regardless of whether or not we see Newsom’s gun control law as positive. Infringing upon federal rulings should not and cannot be the new political standard. If states can now ignore Supreme Court decisions and make whatever laws they want, anything is fair game. Under the conservative court, will states now be able to nullify the right for gay couples to get married? Will all Republican states declare abortion illegal?
I will feel equally as unsettled if the court strikes down California’s law but not Texas’s. Chief Justice John Roberts’ has expressed his concerns regarding the court’s declining reputation and prestige; these are necessary. The Supreme Court currently has a conservative supermajority with six conservative justices and only three liberal justices, polarizing the court that is supposed to make nonpartisan decisions. If the Supreme Court passes laws that only appeal to their conservative political interests, they will lose credibility even further than they have already.
Not only are the laws’ violation of judicial review peculiar, but the encouragement of vigilante behavior is also dangerous. Rather than prosecutors punishing providers for illegal behavior, this responsibility now lies in the hands of the citizen.
This vigilantism did not begin with Texas’s law. One of the most prominent politically-motivated events in recent history, the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection, was an example of the consequences that this vigilantism inspires. Although people disagree on whether or not former President Donald Trump encouraged the mob’s raid of the Capitol, he encouraged them to take the law into their own hands. I am scared that Texas’s and California’s laws will reward similar behavior, not necessarily to the extremity of insurrection, but still to a significant extent.
As lawmakers propose this legislation, many continuously encourage vigilante behavior. An example of this is the shooting in Kenosha in August 2020, when 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot three men and killed two with an assault rifle at a protest against racially-motivated police brutality. To some people, Rittenhouse is a hero. In their eyes, him shooting three people was justified and he should be celebrated for his violence against them. Although many people condemn Rittenhouse’s actions, too many people support what his crimes represent: vigilantism.
The increasing threat of vigilantism as well as a loss of confidence in our judicial system has made it impossible for me to separate my own emotions and biases from the political intricacies and complexities of the situation.
As a pro-choice woman, I am terrified of the possibility of the government taking away my bodily autonomy. As a cisgender, upper-middle-class woman who lives in California, I recognize that I have an advantage and that the state will protect my right to getting an abortion much more than many states across the country.
However, that does not stop me from empathizing with those in Texas who lost their right to control their own bodies. I cannot imagine what the people in Texas must feel right now and the fear that they must experience as a result of the abortion ban after six weeks. Hearing the stories of people having to travel hundreds of miles out of state to receive abortions both saddens and scares me. I wish that the government would not force their opinions on healthcare upon anyone.
When I think of private citizens being able to sue any abortion provider, I am disgusted because I feel that citizens should not take the law into their own hands; that is the job of prosecutors. The thought of random people being able to profit from limiting people’s access to abortion sickens me even further.
On the other hand, as a high school student, I am terrified of what seems like a constant tragedy in this country. I was in seventh grade when Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. I remember every news station covering it around the clock and the horror that it evoked in me as a soon-to-be public high school student. The Oxford High School shooting just months ago, where Ethan Crumbley shot 11 of his schoolmates and killed four, was a chilling reminder of what could be my fate any day.
When I think of private citizens suing gun providers in California, I do not oppose it. The thought of feeling safer at school and knowing that my fellow students across the state can feel the same way puts me at ease. Despite the vigilantism of citizens taking control of the situation, I cannot help but feel hope that there will be a decreased number of gun-related deaths and injuries across the state.
When I think about Texas’s law, I feel that it is a blatant violation of Roe v. Wade and that ruling’s statement about bodily autonomy. When I think about California’s law, I immediately feel reassured and hopeful that I will be safer at school.
Despite my personal biases about these individual laws, both of them make me anxious not just for people’s livelihoods, but also for the future of politics. Laws should not be enacted as a revenge tactic or to prove a point. I can only hope that the Supreme Court declares both laws unconstitutional. As passionately as I feel about creating a safer California, my aversion to the vigilantism encouraged by the laws and their lack of following precedence overrides my want for Newsom’s law to go into effect.