Court lets block on ultrasound law stand; rules on immigration appeals

Patricia Zapor

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The Supreme Court on Monday left a lower court ruling intact that blocked North Carolina's law requiring physicians to perform an ultrasound on women seeking abortions, and to show it to the women and describe the fetus' features.

Without comment, the court let stand a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from  December that overturned the 2011 law on First Amendment grounds.

The Supreme Court also is being asked to take at least two other cases involving state restrictions on abortion. One, which has been on the court's calendar for consideration for several weeks, asks for review of a July 2014 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned Mississippi's requirements for hospital-like standards at abortion clinics. The 2012 law also requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

A Texas law requiring similar standards at abortion clinics was upheld earlier in June by the 5th Circuit. Opponents of the law have asked the Supreme Court to fast-track review of that ruling.

Meanwhile, in the North Carolina case, by declining to take the case, the court let stand lower court rulings blocking the law as violating the First Amendment rights of physicians.

The lower court said: "This compelled speech, even though it is a regulation of the medical profession, is ideological in intent and in kind." The ruling said North Carolina's law goes too far beyond what states have customarily done in the interest of "ensuring informed consent and in protecting the sanctity of life in all its phases."

In other matters, the Supreme Court also on Monday issued two rulings on immigration legal procedures. In Reyes Mata v. Lynch, the court ruled 8-1 that the 5th Circuit was wrong to say it lacked jurisdiction in considering an appeal of a ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals. In that case, Noel Reyes Mata appealed to the Circuit Court after the immigration court refused to reopen his case because he missed a filing deadline. The ruling will allow him to once again ask the Circuit Court to decide whether the immigration court should reopening his case.

In the second immigration matter, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of the federal government's authority to deny a visa to the spouse of a U.S. citizen without giving the specific reason for denying it.

Fauzia Din, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had petitioned for a spousal visa for her husband, Kanishka Berashk. The U.S. embassy in Pakistan refused the request, citing its broad discretion to deny visas on the basis of "terrorist activities." The agency refused to elaborate to the couple about how that provision applied. Berashk had worked as a clerk for the Afghan government while it was controlled by the Taliban, the record said.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that although marriage may be a fundamental right, the visa denial doesn't affect that. Legal cases establishing a right to marry "cannot be expanded to include the right Din argues for -- the right to live in the United States with one's alien spouse," he wrote.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had tossed out lower court rulings in favor of the government's position, saying her right to marry included the right to a better explanation of why her husband was denied a visa.

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