Judicial politics plays out in parental notification law
Respect for the rule of law relies on judges who are neutral arbiters on the issues that come before them. But they sometimes fall short of that standard.
Justices on the Illinois Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of a never-implemented 1995 law that requires a minor who is contemplating an abortion to notify her parents.
If some readers are wondering why the court is reviewing a law passed 17 years ago, it's a good question.
The answer is an outrage.
But, first, the background.
The law requiring parental notification, not parental consent, was signed into law by then-Gov. Jim Edgar. Contemplating the unfortunate reality that some minors do not have a parental relationship or that relationship might be abusive, the law included a provision for a judicial bypass, meaning the child or her advocates can win permission from a judge to skip notification.
The rules establishing the specifics of the bypass provision were not included in the legislation, and it was the job of the Illinois Supreme Court to draft them as a precursor to the law's implementation.
In an outrageous abuse of its authority, a majority of the court simply ignored its duty to draft the bypass rules. As a result, the law sat in the high court's twilight zone for 11 years before a new chief justice, Robert Thomas, in response to a judicial petition seeking the court action, ordered the rules to be drafted.
The 11-year delay is a perfect example of the kind of high-handed and nakedly political abuse of power that does serious damage to the court's reputation as a fair-minded overseer of the law.
Since then, the notification law has been the subject of various challenges in state and federal courts.
The federal courts validated the law's constitutionality in 2009, but the battle has continued in the state courts. Late last year, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear the issue, and an opinion is forthcoming.
Although parental notification requirements seem like common sense, there is no guarantee as to how the Supreme Court will rule. The only certainty is that the law's constitutionality should have been addressed years ago, and it would have been if not for the bad-faith action by some justices on the state's highest court.