Mike Jacobs: Bombshell court decisions will impact N.D.

It's been a busy time for the U.S. Supreme Court

Mike Jacobs
Mike Jacobs
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GRAND FORKS — Last week’s spate of rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court will have huge consequences for North Dakota.

This is most obvious in a ruling dubbed “Dobbs,” which erases constitutional protection for abortion, leaving the matter up to the states. As Matt Von Pinnon, editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, pointed out in an online summary of the week’s news, the decision makes the Red River not just a state boundary, but a dividing line in the fight over abortion rights in the United States.

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Something somewhat similar happened in North Dakota in 2014.

Minnesota’s state constitution guarantees abortion rights; North Dakota’s so-called “trigger law” will go into effect by the end of July. The law tightens restrictions on abortions, although it is not as all encompassing as laws in other states, which effectively end abortion in almost every circumstance. The law allows abortions in cases of rape and incest and to prevent the death of a pregnant woman. It also specifically bars prosecution of a woman seeking an abortion.

The most stunning immediate impact of the decision involves the Fargo Women’s Health Clinic, the only abortion provider in North Dakota. The clinic announced its intention to move across the river. Almost immediately, the clinic raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to accomplish the move, and the figure has edged toward the fundraising goal of $1 million.

The decision arose from a Mississippi case, “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.” It overturns abortion rights recognized 50 years ago in the “Roe v. Wade.” The decision wasn’t a surprise; a draft was leaked earlier this year.


The Women’s Health Clinic’s move to Moorhead means abortions will be accessible – though crossing state lines to procure an abortion becomes illegal. President Biden warned that might happen and promised to push back if it does.

The possibility seems far-fetched. Freedom of movement is pretty deeply entrenched in the United States. North Dakota law does forbid drug-induced abortions unless the drug involved is administered by a physician, so that option appears to be precluded, although enforcement might be difficult.

The other blockbuster opinion reaches even farther back in history, overturning a New York law dating back 100 years. “New York State Rifle and Pistol Owners Association v. Bruen” drew lots of attention nationally. It swept away restrictions on gun ownership and allowed gun owners to carry guns in public spaces, though it exempted spaces that have been gun-free zones in the past.

Many North Dakotans are gun owners, and the Supreme Court decision likely will be welcome here. It likely won’t have a huge impact, though, except that guns may become more visible here.

Perhaps the most consequential of last week’s decisions for North Dakota came in “West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency,” which rolled back the agency’s power to regulate emissions from power plants. This is a big win for North Dakota’s coal industry.

There may be unintended consequences, however. Without regulation, the move to reduce carbon emissions may wane, since new technologies are expensive. The ambitious “Project Tundra” initiative is a potential case in point. The idea is to capture carbon emissions and store them deep underground. This is a major part of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s initiative to make North Dakota “carbon neutral.”

This is a case in which regulation drove innovation. The Supreme Court’s decision might weaken that incentive.

A fourth Supreme Court decision last week didn’t get so much attention, but the decision in “Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta” may have impacts in North Dakota. The decision allows states to prosecute crimes committed on tribal lands by non-Indian offenders.


This initially appears to be a reaction to a recent ruling that much of Oklahoma is Indian Country, including the city of Tulsa. Tribal sovereignty dates to the 1830s and arose from the so-called “Trail of Tears,” President Andrew Jackson’s removal of Indian tribes from the South, allowing the expansion of the plantation system and human slavery.

The treaty that induced native people to sell their lands in Georgia and Alabama guaranteed them sovereignty, as Neil Gorsuch, former President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, pointed out in an earlier case. Gorsuch opposed last week’s ruling, making the vote on the court 5-4. The other decisions mentioned here came on votes of 6-3.

There were other decisions last week, too, involving immigration law, school prayer, mask mandates and a range of other issues. These will have consequences, too.

Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.

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