Hello, and welcome to the final weekly recap of Yada Yada Law School, a lecture series on the law, Seinfeld, but mostly nothing. In the past nine weeks, I believe I have truly learned a handful of lessons that will be of use to me both in law school and everyday life. Outside of learning about the law and gaining a new favorite show, I loved the idea behind YYLS more and more each week. In a time where a lot of people have found themselves wondering how to go about spending their free time, I deeply admire what YYLS has put together. Each one of the series’ directors and lecturers gave up their time to use creativity and their love of a silly sitcom to create something educational for whomever wanted to watch, all in the name of charity.
In the final lecture of this series, Assistant Professor of Law at Georgia State College of Law, Anthony Michael Kreis leads us in a discussion over the topic of Constitutional Law. Let’s get into it!
In the realm of constitutional law, we could have discussions over a wide variety of topics. From civil liberties, civil rights, separation of powers, due process and more, most of the more controversial and essential cases in our country’s history involve legal arguments around the meaning of the Constitution.
One relevant argument in today’s court appears in the Seinfeld dialogue in the sixth season when Elaine objects to a particular pizzeria due to its anti-abortion beliefs. Elaine’s objection sparks a discussion among the group about abortion until Jerry asks Elaine what her new boyfriend thinks about the topic. In reality, Elaine isn’t quite sure what her boyfriend believes about abortion. Still, because he is so attractive, she assumes that he is also pro-choice.
Later on, Elaine is able to ask her new boyfriend his thoughts, and is shocked to hear him explain that “someday we’re going to get enough people in the Supreme Court to change that law.” Elaine is so surprised about her boyfriend’s stance that she immediately breaks off the relationship.
Professor Kreis points out that the boyfriend’s quote raises an interesting question. How exactly is constitutional law made? Is the goal to accurately identify what the law is, or is the goal to “get enough” judges into the supreme court that are destined to consistently side a certain way?
Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt
In 2013, Texas House Bill 2 (2013) was passed to mandate that any physician performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion is performed. While the law at face-value seems to be adding some safety protections to potential patients, it also severely reduced both the number of physicians that would be able to perform abortions and the number of patients that had access. This law would force women in some circumstances to drive hundreds of miles to reach a physician within 30 miles of a registered hospital.
In the Supreme Court, the court ruled that while the bill was enacted to promote medical benefits, it created an “undue burden” that violated these potential patient’s constitutional rights.
Why does this matter? In regards to the question posed by Elaine’s boyfriend, three key things have happened since Whole Women’s Health that can lead to an answer.
- Donald Trump was elected to the presidency.
- Donald Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh (both conservative) to the Supreme Court.
- The Supreme Court accepted a case challenging Louisiana’s act 620, a law virtually identical to the Texas law that was struck down in Whole Women’s Health.
This means that if Elaine’s boyfriend is correct, we are now going to see the Supreme Court “change that law.” Hold on, not quite.
June Medical Services v. Russo
Just over a month ago, the Supreme Court decided a case over a Louisiana “30-mile” law that was mostly the same law that had been stuck down in Texas seven years earlier. Now that the court is predominately made up of conservative justices, many people believed that the judges would vote along with their political leanings and release an opposite outcome. To their surprise, one conservative justice, Chief Justice John Roberts, relied upon the principle of stare decisis (respect the previous precedent) to strike down the state law.
While this wouldn’t have been the outcome that Elaine’s boyfriend desired, it also casts some doubts into his implication that more justices of “X” belief will always produce decisions favorable to “X” belief. From June Medical Services, we can see that Supreme Court decisions do not have to be the consistent result of either a liberal or conservative-leaning court.
What would you prefer? Would you like to see the Supreme Court function more as Elaine’s boyfriend describes or as seen in split cases like June Medical Services?
Thanks for tuning in to the final Yada Yada Law School recap. My hope is that you gained a new or increased appreciation for a great show, plus an interest in some different areas of law. I sure did!
If you missed any of the weekly recaps by Pete-the-Intern of this 10-week series of legal lectures based on the 90s sitcom “Seinfeld”, you can find them all here: