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Law School Case Brief

Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood - 546 U.S. 320, 126 S. Ct. 961 (2006)


Three interrelated principles inform the United States Supreme Court's approach to remedies. First, the Court tries not to nullify more of a legislature's work than is necessary, for the Court knows that a ruling of unconstitutionality frustrates the intent of the elected representatives of the people. It is axiomatic that a statute may be invalid as applied to one state of facts and yet valid as applied to another. Accordingly, the normal rule is that partial, rather than facial, invalidation is the required course, such that a statute may be declared invalid to the extent that it reaches too far, but otherwise left intact.


In 2003, New Hampshire enacted Parental Notification Prior to Abortion Act which prohibited physicians from performing an abortion on a pregnant minor until 48 hours after written notice of such abortion was delivered to her parent or guardian. The statute did not explicitly permit a physician to perform an abortion in a medical emergency without parental notification. Respondent Planned Parenthood of Northern New England challenged the statute since it lacked a health exception, the life exception was too narrow, and the judicial bypass provision's confidentiality requirement was insufficient. The District Court granted declaratory judgment and concluded that the statute was invalid for failing to contain an explicit health exception. The district court further held that the life exception was unconstitutional because it required physicians to certify with impossible precision that an abortion was necessary to avoid death, therefore, it failed to protect physicians' good-faith medical judgment. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed.


Did the lower courts err in invalidating the entire statute?




The lower courts need not have invalidated the New Hampshire statute wholesale. Only a few applications of New Hampshire's parental notification statute would have presented a constitutional problem. A declaratory judgment and an injunction may have been issued to  prohibit the statute's unconstitutional application, so long as the courts were faithful to legislative intent. Because there was an open question whether the New Hampshire legislators preferred no statute at all to a statute so enjoined, remand was appropriate for the lower courts to determine legislative intent in the first instance.

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