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Wyoming Supreme Court declines to settle constitutionality of two pro-life laws, sends case back to trial judge

by | Apr 10, 2024

By Dave Andrusko

For the second time in two years, the Wyoming Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a trial judge’s request to rule on the constitutionality of abortion laws, saying 9th District Judge Melissa Owens again did not provide sufficient information for the high court to make a decision.

Both sides asked Judge Owens to issue a summary judgment in their favor. Instead on ruling on the motions for judgment without a trial, Judge Owens sent over 14 questions for the justices to answer. In the meanwhile, both laws are blocked from going into effect.

One law, HB0152, the Life is a Human Right Act, protects unborn babies except in cases of rape or incest or to save a woman’s life. The other–Senate Enrolled Act 93–made Wyoming the first state to specifically make it illegal “to prescribe, dispense, distribute, sell or use any drug for the purpose of procuring or performing an abortion on any person,” with the exceptions for rape, incest, miscarriages and when the mother’s life is at risk.

In her filing, Judge Owens wrote, “The Court having reviewed the file and being otherwise fully advised in the premises finds that the record in this matter is fully developed and issues before the Court involve questions of law that are determinative to this action in which there does not appear to be any controlling precedent in the decisions of the Wyoming Supreme Court.”

The state’s highest court countered that Judge Owens should rule on the requests for summary judgment. According to Joshua Wolfson, “Chief Justice Kate M. Fox said Owens did not provide the state Supreme Court with enough information to answer the questions.”

“This court acknowledges it will likely be required, at some point, to rule on the constitutionality of Wyoming’s abortion laws,” Fox wrote. “This court stands ready to do so, if and when those constitutional questions are properly presented to it.”

 

Owens’ ruling on the summary judgment motions could help narrow the issues the Supreme Court will eventually be asked to decide on, Fox added in her ruling.

Judge Owens stalled the case at numerous points. Her request for the state Supreme Court to step in “mirrors one the Wyoming Supreme Court made in late 2022, when Owens posed similar questions to the justices,” according to Wolfson. “In that instance, the high court said it couldn’t answer the questions based on the ‘limited factual record provided’ by the lower court.”

Categories: Judicial