In all the controversies about abortion bans and restrictions, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has played a big part.
Missouri and Arkansas received most of the attention this year for laws to ban abortion at 20 weeks and 18 weeks, respectively. The bans haven’t gone into effect in either state, but both are fighting to change that.
The 8th Circuit Court would be a deciding factor for each.
Though abortion bans in Arkansas and Missouri were stalled by lower courts, both states have appealed to the 8th Circuit to release those holds so the bans can go into effect.
The jurisdiction of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals covers both Arkansas and Missouri, as well as Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.
In many states that have introduced new, extreme bans on abortion, the goal is to have the case taken to the Supreme Court as a way to confront the Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973.
In the middle of the country, the 8th Circuit is a crucial stepping stone to the top.
The Missouri and Arkansas bans haven’t gone into effect because district court judges stopped them, rulings the appeals court could overturn or uphold. This back-and-forth has happened for years.
In 2015, the 8th Circuit Court upheld a district court’s injunction on an Arkansas law that would ban abortion after 12 weeks.
In 2018, the 8th Circuit heard a case where Arkansas’ solicitor general argued the court should reinstate an Arkansas law banning certain kinds of abortions. The court also upheld Missouri laws that put additional requirements on health care providers, but didn’t ban the procedure.
In the same year, an Arkansas law made it to the Supreme Court, but the justices didn’t accept the case for a hearing. As is customary, the justices didn’t explain their decision.
And that’s another reason the circuit courts of appeal are important. Decisions made in the middle level of the federal court system often serve as the final word in cases that don’t make it to the Supreme Court, which is the majority that are petitioned.
The 8th Circuit Court leans conservative, which has given some civil rights attorneys in Iowa pause. Of the 11 judges on the court, only one, Jane Kelly of Iowa, was appointed by a Democratic president. She joined the bench in 2013 after she was appointed by former President Barack Obama.
George W. Bush had the most influence with five appointments still on the bench, but Donald Trump follows closely behind with four. George H. W. Bush appointed only one who is still active.
By Nikoel Hytrek