Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson hasn’t shied away from speaking out at oral arguments when she thinks lawyers are pressing bogus claims or in dissenting opinions when she thinks her colleagues are wrong.
We saw the latest such dissent on Monday, in a case involving abortion, where Jackson wrote alone to explain that she thought her fellow justices handled the matter improperly.
And though abortion provides the backdrop of the dispute, the legal issue that Jackson wrote about in the case, Chapman v. Doe, is broader than abortion alone and applies to all sorts of cases. It’s a technical issue about how to treat cases that become moot.
The case stemmed from a 17-year-old who was pregnant in 2018. Called Jane Doe in court filings, she sought an abortion through Missouri state court procedures that would have let her get one without parental consent. But the court clerk, Michelle Chapman, said she had to notify Doe’s parents. Doe got an abortion in Illinois and sued Chapman in federal court for violating her rights. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Chapman’s immunity claim in April of last year.
Missouri officials appealed to the Supreme Court, where, following last June's Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, both parties eventually agreed that the case was moot, albeit for different reasons. Given their agreement on the bottom line, however, it wasn’t too surprising that the Supreme Court on Monday sent the case back to the appeals court to dismiss the case as moot.
Yet, Jackson thought the court was wrong to wipe the 8th Circuit ruling off the books, even if the parties broadly agreed. In fact, she thinks the court has been too freely making such moves without having good enough reason to do so.
In her dissent, Jackson said that she would "not add this far-from-exceptional case" to the "growing list" of cases vacated by the Supreme Court.
It’s notable that the Biden appointee is setting out on her own this early in her tenure (though of course, Jackson was already a judge for years before her high court appointment and has likely been thinking about these sorts of issues for a long time). And even though the mootness issue arose in the context of abortion, clearly it didn’t divide the court in a partisan way like the Dobbs ruling itself.
So even though this is more of a technical issue, it will be interesting to see what other matters Jackson speaks out about as she continues to blaze her own trail as the newest justice.