Hodgson v. Minnesota

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110 S.Ct. 2926 (1990), argued 29 Nov. 1989, decided 25 June 1990 by vote of 5 to 4 on one issue and 5 to 4 on another; Stevens announced judgment of Court on the first issue in an opinion joined by Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, and O’Connor, from which Rehnquist, White, Scalia, and Kennedy dissented; O’Connor concurring in result on second issue with Rehnquist, White, Scalia, and Kennedy. Hodgson, the Court's first confrontation with the abortion issue after its decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), indicated that substantially greater restrictions on abortions were constitutionally permissible. The case involved a statute requiring minors seeking abortions to notify both parents; a minor who obtained a court's determination that she was mature or that an abortion without notice to the parents was in her best interests could have an abortion.

A majority of the Court held that the two-parent notification requirement was unconstitutional; it was not a reasonable method of assuring proper parental involvement in the abortion decision, given the large numbers of families in which the minor seeking abortion did not reside with both parents, often because the absent parent was physically abusive. The dissenters argued that a legislature could properly act with the majority of families in mind; in most families, notification of both parents would promote desirable consultation.

A different majority of the Court held that permitting minors to invoke a judicial “by-pass” in lieu of parental notification was constitutional because it was “an expeditious and efficient means” to identify cases where notification of both parents would not be sound. The dissenters objected to requiring that minors disclose intimate personal details to a judge. Further, experience with the procedure showed that permission to obtain an abortion was almost never denied; however, obtaining permission burdened the minor's choice because of delays in scheduling hearings and difficulties in locating judges in rural areas who would make the necessary findings.

Hodgson was the first case in which Justice Sandra Day O’Connor voted to hold a restriction on the availability of abortions unconstitutional. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), the justices held constitutional a Pennsylvania law that required a minor to inform one parent of her plan to have an abortion. In this instance, Justice O’Connor voted with the majority to sustain not only the regulation but also the underlying precedent of Roe.

Mark V. Tushnet

Subjects: Law.

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