Oklahoma's 'Strict Constructionist' court goes technical in attempt to spare abortion industry.
All 9 justices agreed that the legislature again violated the 1-subject mandate in the Oklahoma Constitution, when the abortion industry regulations were passed, last Spring.
The law focuses on four abortion-related points:
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law and the state's highest court subsequently blocked it from going into effect. The center sued on behalf of Dr. Larry Burns of Norman, who performs nearly half of Oklahoma's abortions.
Article V, Section 57:
Subjects and Titles - Revival or Amendment by Reference - Extent of Invalidity
Every act of the Legislature shall embrace but one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title, except general appropriation bills, general revenue bills, and bills adopting a code, digest, or revision of statutes; and no law shall be revived, amended, or the provisions thereof extended or conferred, by reference to its title only; but so much thereof as is revived, amended, extended, or conferred shall be re-enacted and published at length: Provided, That if any subject be embraced in any act contrary to the provisions of this section, such act shall be void only as to so much of the law as may not be expressed in the title thereof.
The recent upsurge in high court invalidation has many politicos crying 'foul'. Especially those legislators seeking to set health regulations on medical services providers. Each time the legislature addresses simple regulations on the abortion industry, the court conveniently finds two sentences and sees them as different pieces of legislation, requiring separate bills. The court seems to be strict constructionist when it suits their design, and imaginary when that works to their favor.
The current high court is dominated by appointees of past Democrat governors, going back to the early 1980s. the vast bulk of the court was appointed by former governor Brad Henry.
The Daily Oklahoman editorial board, in 2009, said: "NOW that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has struck down House Bill 1603, a 2009 lawsuit reform law, for violating the state constitution's 'single-subject' requirement, some may think the Legislature has clear guidance to avoid similar “logrolling” challenges in the future. This isn't the case because the court's logrolling decisions appear contradictory. Lawmakers will be hard-pressed to discern a pattern."
So a bill authorizing bonds covers multiple subjects, as does a bill dealing with lawsuit reform in several areas. But a bill tying an education policy change to an unrelated school appropriation is a single subject? The apparent contradiction doesn't provide a tidy template for lawmakers to use when drafting legislation."
Justices James Winchester (joined by Justice Steven Taylor) stressed that point in the dissenting opinion: “The majority opinion gives little guidance to the Legislature regarding why the law found in HB 1603 is unconstitutional.”
Winchester noted that "a 1922 state Supreme Court ruling, which cited case law, declared the term 'subject' is 'to be given a broad and extended meaning' so legislators can 'include in one act all matters having a logical or natural connection. If all parts of an act relate directly or indirectly to the general subject of the act, it is not open to the objection of plurality.' The 1922 decision also said the single-subject rule 'does not contain any limitation on the comprehensiveness of the subject' and bills 'may include innumerable minor subjects.' ”
Winchester noted a 1978 law dealing with trial evidence had 78 sections. The Uniform Commercial Code, passed in 1961, had 10 articles and a total of 368 sections covering a wide range of topics.
"If past court decisions declare that a bill containing 'innumerable minor subjects' with only an indirect relationship to a law's general subject isn't a violation of the single-subject rule, how does a bill dealing entirely with tort reform violate that provision?"