On January 5, 2023, the Idaho Supreme Court issued its opinion in Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky v. State of Idaho. In a 3-2 decision, the Court upheld three Idaho laws severely restricting access to abortion. The justices covered a lot of ground in a majority opinion and two dissents spanning 139 pages, but this post will focus on the role of originalism in the Court’s analysis.
The Court grappled with, among other things, whether Article I, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution guarantees in some form the right to an abortion. The five justices answered that question in three ways, revealing their differences in constitutional interpretation along the way. A careful analysis of those differences informs how advocates should present future state constitutional questions to the Court.
Starting with a point of commonality, the justices all agreed that the Court should start with the text. Article I, Section 1 says: “All men are by nature free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protecting property; pursuing happiness and securing safety.” That list of inalienable rights does not mention abortion, but the list is also not exhaustive. So the justices were left to determine whether Article I, Section 1 contains an implicit right to abortion. The justices diverged on how to answer that question, which then of course led to different answers.