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SCOTUS to consider Indiana abortion, juvenile life cases in conference

December 27, 2018

Two cases from Indiana, including the controversial fetal remains disposal law, will be on the agenda when the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court meet for their next conference on Jan. 4, 2019.

The justices are scheduled to consider the petitions for hearing oral arguments in Kristina Box, Commissioner, Indiana Department of Health et al. v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Inc., et al., 18-483, which centers on the abortion restrictions imposed by House Enrolled Act 1337, and Larry W. Newton, Jr. v. Indiana, 17-1511, which questions the constitutionality of imposing a life sentence on a juvenile. This will be the first time Indiana’s writ of certiorari for its abortion law will be reviewed and the fourth time the Newton petition has been distributed for conference.

Consideration of Indiana’s abortion law comes less than a month after Justice Clarence Thomas issued a fiery dissent when the majority of the court declined to hear cases from Kansas and Louisiana over whether states could cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. Justices Samuel Alito, Jr., and Neil Gorsuch joined the dissent.

Indiana’s abortion law, signed by then-Gov. Mick Pence in 2016, was immediately challenged by Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. The law requires fetal remains to either be buried or cremated and bans women from terminating their pregnancies because of certain genetic predispositions such as gender, race and disability.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana found the law to be unconstitutional https://www.theindianalawyer.com/articles/43268-federal-judge-blocks-another-indiana-abortion-regulation  and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. However, Judge Daniel Manion dissented with majority on the fetal remains provision and argued the state has an interest in “recognizing the dignity and humanity of the unborn child.”

Indiana filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court Oct. 12, 2018, and a reply brief Dec. 18, 2018. Groups that oppose abortion rights, including Americans United for Life, Susan B. Anthony List and Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund, have filed petitions urging the Supreme Court to take the case.

The petition in the Newton case comes directly from the Indiana Court of Appeals after the Indiana Supreme Court declined transfer.

As a 17-year-old, Larry Newton pleaded guilty in 1994 to killing a 19-year-old Ball State University and accepted a sentence of life without parole in exchange for the state dropping the death penalty. In 2013, Newton filed for post-conviction relief, arguing his life sentence imposed when he was a juvenile violates the Eighth Amendments prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

He cites Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012) and, his petition asserts the U.S. Supreme Court “imposed a flat prohibition against the mandatory imposition” of life sentences on juvenile offenders. However, Indiana counters the Hoosier state courts had held Miller applies only when sentencing is mandatory. In Newton, the judge had the discretion to accept or reject the plea agreement and, in fact, held an evidentiary hearing examining the appropriateness of the life without parole sentence.

According to the Supreme Court rules, four of the nine justices must vote to accept a case.

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