Why the Concurrence Says More than the Majority
What is so important about the Thomas concurrence? Well, let's look at it...
That's all of it. Those four sentences say more about the Roberts Court and the future of abortion jurisprudence than the previous 39 pages of Justice Kennedy's majority opinion. Let's go through it line by line. First sentence...
JUSTICE THOMAS, with whom JUSTICE SCALIA joins, concurring.
I join the Court's opinion because it accurately applies current jurisprudence, including Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833 (1992). I write separately to reiterate my view that the Court's abortion jurisprudence, including Casey and Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113 (1973), has no basis in the Constitution. See Casey, supra, at 979 (SCALIA, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part); Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U. S. 914, 980-983 (2000) (THOMAS, J., dissenting). I also note that whether the Act constitutes a permissible exercise of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause is not before the Court. The parties did not raise or brief that issue; it is outside the question presented; and the lower courts did not address it. See Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U. S. 709, 727, n. 2 (2005) (THOMAS, J., concurring).
I join the Court's opinion because it accurately applies current jurisprudence, including Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833 (1992).Nothing controversial here, just a simple concurrence introductory sentence. It says, "Good job, Tony. You applied Casey correctly."
I write separately to reiterate my view that the Court's abortion jurisprudence, including Casey and Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113 (1973), has no basis in the Constitution. [citations omitted]This is no surprise from Thomas. Both he and Justice Scalia add this statement to every abortion opinion that they write. They are making it clear that there is no right to an abortion in the Constitution.
Third and fourth sentences...
I also note that whether the Act constitutes a permissible exercise of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause is not before the Court. The parties did not raise or brief that issue; it is outside the question presented; and the lower courts did not address it.Ah, the Commerce Clause issue. Thomas is hinting that there may be a constitutional problem with the federal PBA ban. You may remember the mini-revival of federalism principles during the Rehnquist Court. Five members of the Court put restrictions on Congressional power to enact laws under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Is Thomas hinting that he would've gone the other way if the parties raised the issue?
Thomas' Commerce Clause statements are interesting, but there's something more interesting going on here. What's missing from this concurrence? Roberts and Alito. They didn't sign on to this opinion. The question is: why? What about it made them not join? I think that there are a few possibilities:
1. Roberts and Alito will not vote to overturn Roe/Casey. It's one thing to take a different view in this case and depart from what the Court did a few years ago in Stenberg v Carhart (the state PBA ban case). It's another thing to upset decades of abortion jurisprudence and throw it all out the window. Many Justices believe that the longer a case is on the books, the greater the burden to overturn it. Roberts and Alito made statements similar to this during their confirmation hearings. The late Chief Justice Rehnquist changed his position on Miranda after voting against it originally. It happens. Perhaps Roberts and Alito think that Roe/Casey are too entrenched to overturn.
2. Roberts and Alito did not agree that there was a Commerce Clause problem with the PBA ban. Congress inserted a jurisdictional clause in the statute that explicitly stated that the law only applied to "partial-birth" abortions that are conducted "in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce." My memory of the post-Lopez Gun-Free School Zones Act is a bit fuzzy, but didn't Congress pass the law again (after being struck down on Commerce Clause grounds) and insert a similar jurisdictional clause into the new version?
3. Roberts and Alito do not want to show their hand on the constitutionality of abortion. The political fall out from this decision is going to be huge as it is. Imagine what would happen if there were four solid votes on the Court to overturn Roe/Casey. Then imagine that Bush or another Republican president got to appoint the next Justice. The battle over that nomination would be like nothing we've ever seen. Tactically, if Roberts and Alito wanted to see Roe/Casey overturned, they would stay stealth for as long as possible. Very Machiavellian.
4. Roberts and Alito did not want to alienate Kennedy. We all know that Justice Kennedy can be a sensitive guy. Imagine how it would look for him to be writing for a 5-vote majority where everyone else joined another opinion. And this other opinion would go much, much further than Kennedy's. It's not good internal politics to leave Kennedy hanging out there on his own. With the current make up of the Court, Kennedy is the swing Justice and the one to woo. Roberts and Alito might be making a play for his vote, just like Justice Stevens did in the greenhouse gas case.
The concurrence is full of questions, and I don't have any of the answers for them. I don't know when we will know the answers to those questions either. That's up to Roberts and Alito.