By Lindsay Whitehurst | Associated press
SALT LAKE CITY – The unusual legal strategy used to ban most abortions in Texas is already increasingly used in Republican-ruled states to target pornography, LGBT rights and other burning cultural issues.
As private residents file lawsuits in areas like environmental law, some warn that expanding and applying it to new areas could have a boomerang effect if Democrats use it on issues like gun control.
When Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department would prosecute the Texas law, he said it could become a model “for action in other areas, by other states, and in with regard to other constitutional rights and protections “. He was concerned about “the damage that would be done to our society if states were allowed to enforce laws and allow individuals to infringe the constitutional rights of others.”
The concept has already popped up in other states, notably on issues such as abortion, where courts have opposed laws backed by conservatives.
In Missouri, a new law allows people to sue local police departments that enforce federal gun laws. In Kansas, residents can go to court to challenge mask warrants and limits on public gatherings, and in Ohio, residents can pursue any action taken in response to an emergency.
It is also an enforcement mechanism for restricting the use of toilets by transgender students in Tennessee and the participation of their sports teams in Florida.
“These laws are deliberately designed to avoid being challenged in federal court,” said Jessica Clarke, a law professor at Vanderbilt University specializing in anti-discrimination law, of the Tennessee and Florida measures.
In Utah, an anti-pornography bill was passed last year, forcing sites to post a warning about dangers to minors. It was labeled a violation of free speech by adult entertainment sites, but the possible prosecution attack convinced major sites to comply before a single person sued.
Utah Republican Representative Brady Brammer said he modeled his bill on Proposition 65, which allows people who may have been exposed to potentially carcinogenic materials to sue and perceive some kind of ” bonus ”if they win. Civil law enforcement has long been an integral part of environmental law, with private lawyers acting as a sort of extension of extended regulators. Legal settlements with businesses often provide funding for green nonprofits.
“The Republicans are militarizing the tool that the Democrats thought they had, which was the civilian app,” Brammer said. “They’re following the tactics Democrats have been using for years, decades, and they’re doing it for conservative causes.”
Texas’ abortion law, which lawmakers in several other states want to copy, has another unusual feature that has dramatically increased the number of people who can sue. Unlike the vast majority of civil law, it does not require people to show that they have been directly affected.
After the Supreme Court ruled not to block the law, the mere threat of legal action meant that some abortion providers in Texas stopped offering abortions altogether, even those before the specified six weeks.
But others point out the tactic could come back to haunt Republicans who have long sought to limit the size of court settlements in cases like medical malpractice cases.
If broad civil law enforcement tactics were applied to gun control, for example, it could allow people to prosecute gun sellers if the gun was used to injure someone, said Texas attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, who sued to block abortion law.
“This law in Texas is a double-edged sword for Republicans,” she said. “It is potentially very dangerous for them to push something like this forward with other issues that could be addressed to them in the same way.”