President Obama Could Change Makeup of Key Appeals Courts on Abortion

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 2, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

President Obama Could Change Makeup of Key Appeals Courts on Abortion

by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 2
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — President Barack Obama has already made his first mark on the Supreme Court with the nomination of newly-minted pro-abortion Justice Sonia Sotomayor. His next Supreme Court appointment could come soon, but he can change the face of a key appeals court in the meantime.

While most of the focus in the courts debate centers on the nation’s high court, a president can change the outcome of rulings on abortion and bioethics law with appeals court appointments.

The appeals courts are one step removed from the Supreme Court but they are frequently the end of the line for abortion law cases because of the small percentages of cases that make their way before the nine influential judges.

Such is the case with the Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles laws for the mid-Atlantic states but also some cases with a national scope given its position adjacent to the nation’s capital.

Most recently, the 4th Circuit issued a 6-5 decision in June upholding a Virginia ban on partial-birth abortions.

The three-judge appellate court panel that initially stuck down the law said the Virginia ban doesn’t contain a measure the federal one does that allows abortion practitioners not to be prosecuted if they set out to do a legal abortion procedure and wind up doing a partial-birth abortion instead.

The full appeals court reversed the decision saying that the panel ruled based on a what if situation and not on the rule of law.

A what-if that is likely to occur is what will happen if and when Obama begins making appointments to the court. That one-judge pro-life majority will vanish.

In total, there are 20 open circuit judgeships that Obama can push abortion advocates into and five of those are on the 4th Circuit. Judge Karen Williams, a 1992 appointee of President George H.W. Bush who ruled with the pro-life side on the partial-birth abortion ban, recently stepped down due to health issues.

President Obama’s first appeals court pick was that of district judge David Hamilton, who has come under strong criticism from pro-life groups and whose nomination the Senate will eventually take up.

Obama can also negatively influence abortion and bioethics laws via appointments to the 75 U.S. District Court positions that are open

He can easily maneuver abortion advocates into those seats with the help of a Senate that is strongly controlled by his own party and abortion advocates.

With studies showing 80 percent of the decisions made by a Supreme Court justice running consistently with the views of the president who made the appointment, there is little doubt that a pro-abortion turn in the courts will take place over the next four years and thereafter.

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