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DOJ will ask the Supreme Court to halt the Texas abortion ban

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We turn now to the legal battle over Texas's new restrictive abortion law. The Justice Department says it will ask the Supreme Court to halt enforcement of the state's law while the DOJ's legal challenge plays out. NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas reports.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: The Justice Department's decision to ask the Supreme Court to step in is the latest move in the legal wrangling over Texas's restrictive new abortion law. The department sued Texas last month over the law known as SB8, arguing that it is unconstitutional and violates Supreme Court precedent on abortion. Last week, a federal judge agreed and ordered a temporary halt to enforcement of the law. Texas appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals which issued a ruling this week allowing SB8 to remain in effect as the legal challenges play out. Less than 24 hours later, the Justice Department said it would ask the Supreme Court to lift that.

JESSICA LEVINSON: I think it's hugely important politically because President Biden has said, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that this Texas law is not in effect.

LUCAS: That's Jessica Levinson. She's a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

LEVINSON: It's an incredible longshot that the Supreme Court would say, no, we're going to push pause on this Texas law. But it's really, I think, a matter of following through on a promise to do everything.

LUCAS: It's a long shot in part, Levinson says, because the court previously entertained a separate challenge to SB8 brought by advocacy groups but voted 5-4 to allow the law to go into effect, though the court made no judgment about the law's constitutionality. SB8 effectively bans abortions in Texas after six weeks of pregnancy, which is before most women know they're pregnant. And the law doesn't include exceptions for rape, sexual abuse or incest. And in a novel twist, it in essence hands the power of enforcement to average citizens instead of state agencies. That, the Justice Department says, is nothing more than a blatant attempt to shield SB8 from judicial review.

LEVINSON: Texas just devised an absolutely brilliant law if you oppose abortions. I mean, they created basically a maze where there may really not be any outlets, where every time you turn, they're like, nope, sorry. Do not turn. Do not pass go. Do not collect a hundred dollars.

LUCAS: It's unclear when the Supreme Court will take up the Justice Department's latest request. But the Fifth Circuit says it will hear arguments in the case in early December. Ryan Lucas, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.