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Roundtable: California's response to the U.S. Supreme Court

 July 1, 2022 at 12:00 PM PDT

S1: The Supreme Court invites controversy by limiting reproductive rights and muzzling efforts to confront climate change. But there is one silver lining for progressives at the border this week where reacting to some of the most consequential court rulings in decades. I'm Matt Hoffman , and this is KPBS roundtable. As an associate justice of the Supreme.
S2: Court of the United States.
S3: As an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
S4: Under the Constitution.
S3: Under the Constitution.
S2: And laws of the United.
S3: States and laws of the United States.
S2: So help me. God.
S3: God. So help me God.
S2: Now I'm ask all.
S1: Of the members.
S2: Of the court. I'm pleased to welcome Justice Jackson to the court and to our common calling.
S1: Hello and welcome to our discussion this week. I'm KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman. Now , usually the swearing in of a new Supreme Court justice would be big news itself , let alone Catanese , Brown , Jackson becoming the first African-American woman to hold the position. But maybe not as we wrap up a term like this. Let's introduce our guest this week. Kristen Wong is a health reporter for Calmatters. Michael Smolens is a columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune and Gustavo Solis is back with us. He covers the border for KPBS News. We're so glad to have all you here. We're going to start with sort of the big headline news out of last week and this week. The abortion case just a week ago , Roe versus Wade was overturned. It was sort of expected after that unprecedented leak in May. And in response , we've seen people protesting across the country. Kristin , as you're following up with sources in recent days.
S3: I think many , many people were sort of hoping against hope that the Supreme Court might temper the ruling or make it a little bit less sweeping of an overturn of Roe versus Wade. And in California , the message has really been one largely of solidarity with women from other states where abortion is now illegal. I think our legislature and many health professionals have made it very clear , come here , you can come here. Abortion is still legal in California. There are 13 states with trigger bans that just immediately took effect at the moment that the ruling went out. There are other states that also have bans that they're going to take effect within the next six , 30 days. And , you know , it's leaving. And then many states that politically are just sort of inevitably going to also ban abortion. So , you know , there is also I think it's worth mentioning , a significant minority of people celebrating this decision and the subsequent bans. Plenty of Californians are are enraged that our state has opened its arms to women from other states , and particularly that our state is spending state taxpayer money on people from other places to come here. Although sort of recent polling would suggest that these people are squarely in the minority , with less than a quarter supporting the overturning of Roe versus Wade.
S1: And you mentioned it a little bit earlier , but one of your recent stories dives into how California is embracing abortion rights and even looking for ways to expand access. As you mentioned , that will include a ballot measure going to voters in November. What is that going to be asking people to do ? Yes.
S3: So that ballot measure is asking California voters to enshrine the right to abortion in our state constitution. Historically , we have sort of legal analysis has said that abortion is protected in the Constitution under the right to privacy. However , we saw the Supreme Court just strike that down. And legislators who voted to put this measure on the ballot said they they don't want it to be up to any any judge in the state to be able to uniformly ban the right to abortion for all people in California. So that ballot would enshrine specifically the right in our Constitution.
S1: Let's now bring in the UT's , Michael Smolens , on this. Michael , you had a column this week focusing on state Senate President Toni Atkins. She's the lead on this ballot measure.
S2: Before she was the Senate president pro tem , before she was assembly speaker , before she was acting mayor of San Diego , she was a director at a woman's health clinic that provided the full range of reproductive services , including abortion. She has a very interesting story , her first job interview at this clinic in San Diego. She had trouble getting in because that was the Operation Rescue protest back , I think , in the eighties. So this is very near to her heart. I noticed for a lot of people , but she dealt with a lot of women that in some cases decided to have the baby , in some cases didn't. But she was in counseling with these woman women a lot. And on top of that , her background is interesting because she grew up really dirt poor in western Virginia. In a house that didn't have running water. So she's aware of the impacts of laws and how they affect poor people. And as we know , the big concern is , you know , people at the lower end of the women , at the lower end of the economic scale are probably going to be the hardest hit by this. So it really is a personal thing for her in addition to , you know , the policy issues.
S1: Well , let's hear from Atkins a little bit. KPBS Midday Edition spoke with the state senator earlier this week. Here's a portion of that interview where she talks about supporting people who might have to come to California to get reproductive care.
S3: The gut punch to me was that in California , we will be okay. We're going to make sure that we enshrine the right in our Constitution. We're going to make sure that we have access to services and more providers and more support. But for those women that woke up in one of those states , I cannot tell you how that makes me feel. I grew up in one of those states. And so I want to be here to welcome women and families and those who come from other states. And in fact , we already know that they are coming as the providers. We've already seen an increase.
S1:
S2: And we have a Democratic governor. They're all on board with protecting reproductive rights , abortion rights. And in addition to the constitutional amendment that Kristen talked about , there's all sorts of legislation that's going through and has been passed to expand services , provide more money in part of it , with the knowledge that more women are going to be coming here , as we've talked about. You know , one thing to consider also , I mean , it's a it's a big political issue , as we know. We don't know how it's going to affect the November elections , but we did see that. Now , remember , it wasn't that long ago , a little less than a year ago , the recall election of Governor Newsom and where the lead challenger was a very conservative Republican. He really hit on the notion that , hey , you know , the fundamental abortion rights may be protected in California , but a conservative governor could really start eating away around the edges. And the abortion issue really was a big driver in that election that otherwise wasn't gaining a lot of interest. So we know it's a very potent issue at the ballot box.
S1: And we know that it's not just California that might become a destination. Gustavo Solis , you got reaction from abortion clinics in Mexico.
S4: I mean , they've already gotten clients from the U.S. even before the decision. Not most. Not so much because of access , but mostly because of cost. And as some of you might know , Tijuana has that history of being a hub for medical tourism. You can go get procedures done there with the same quality as U.S. doctors with half the price and then really no insurance. So it has that history. Abortion is relatively new. There's only one clinic in Tijuana , but they say already about a quarter of their clients are Americans , and they just expect that number to to increase. And it has been increasing month by month.
S1: Well , so already a quarter. And you kind of touched on it there. But generally , what is abortion access like in Baja , California ? You kind of alluded it sounded like there was a recent big change there. Yeah.
S4: Yeah. I mean , abortion access is it's new. It's in its infant stages in Baja , California. The state legalized it in October 2021 , but the first clinic didn't open up until March in Tijuana , and that's because there's still a lot of stigma around it. Even renting space , they had a really hard time renting space because none of the medical facilities wanted to be associated with abortion. They got as far as signing multiple leases only to have the landlord back out. Education and awareness isn't all there in Baja , California. The clinic gets a lot of calls from women asking like , Hey , is this legal ? Is this safe ? So they have to do that. And even just expanding is difficult because their current landlord is really reluctant. To to to be transparent. They don't want the clinic to advertise the exact location of the place. So in the Flyers , it's basically just call this number , which makes it seem like a clandestine operation. So they're trying to overcome those challenges while they're expanding. So it's a new , like I said , a new industry.
S3: I just wanted to say that , you know , in terms of people traveling across the border to get abortions , this is really sort of harkening back to before abortion was even legal in California , the medical tourism was flourishing in and next in Baja California , a while before California made abortion legal in 1967 , which , you know , if you think about is really not that long ago. So it's kind of a. An odd or a concerning parallel back to those days.
S4: It is a weird situation where abortion rights are declining in the U.S. , but they're expanding in Mexico. I think just in the last month , three more Mexican states legalized it. Now , albeit there are those cultural stigma barriers , but they are trying to expand it. So I talked to providers in Mexico who are just. Kind of noted on how weird it is right now.
S1: And we're going to get into the political angle of all this in just a moment. But the ROE reversal last Friday really affected people in an emotional way. Let's go ahead and get some general thoughts from everyone on whether this issue , you know , rises to the level of things like inflation as a priority when people are at the ballot box. Christine , we'll start with you here.
S3: There is a measure going through the legislature to place the constitutional amendment first on the ballot for people to vote on. And , you know , I think despite what people might say publicly or politically about abortion , it's very complicated and it remains a very deeply personal decision. So a majority of Californians support abortion rights , and that does not necessarily fall along party lines. So we'll have to see. I think in a state like California , the constitutional measure is likely to pass , but we'll just have to see. But you know what it comes down to in that personal moment at the ballot.
S1:
S2: I mean , in a way , I hate to say this , but because people thought , you know , Roe v Wade was secure for a long time , it had been for 50 years. It was almost sort of a theoretical discussion that people didn't really have to address that directly in politics. It was always there , but now it's reality. And , you know , it's hard to say how it will affect elections. You know , some people are saying people are already going to vote that way. They have , you know , for Democrats and Republicans who support or oppose abortion. Right. But it is interesting in swing districts is really where you're going to see the rubber hitting the road , so to speak. One in San Diego , the 49th District represented by Democrat Mike Levin. His opponent , Brian Marriott , was a Republican. Sort of a more conservative business Republican , not really a cultural warrior. But when I spoke with him , he would not say how he would vote on an abortion ban in Congress. We know there are members of Congress and the Republican side talking about various kinds of bans , 15 week ban or an outright ban. And that's sort of a national strategy for Republicans in these purple districts. They're going to try to avoid taking a stand. I think it's going to be difficult because I think voters are going to demand that in the past they might have been able to slide a little bit more. So it's definitely something that frankly , Democrats are hoping works for them. They certainly didn't want the ruling to come down the way it did. But that , you know , as we know , the Democrats really are looking at some potentially big losses and they're hoping to turn it around. They think the abortion rights question might help them do that.
S1: And another case that we're closely watching here involves President Biden's attempt to end the remain in Mexico asylum policy. Former President Trump enacted it during the pandemic. Gustavo , you've reported a lot on this and how the policy was being held up in courts before.
S4: I mean , I think a decision was expected. Obviously there's been rumours of it happening this week for a while now , but the specific decision , I don't think it was expected just because the case is a little bit more , more wonky and less straightforward than something like the road decision. It was argued mostly on on procedural grounds. And which branch of government has the authority to do which and how do you interpret the word may in a 1992 immigration law. So so I think people are following it but but not as not the same way that they were following Roe. Hmm.
S1: Hmm. And if you could lay it out for where we're at now. Is remaining Mexico officially gone or what could sort of be coming next year for those trying to seek asylum ? Yeah.
S4: So. Well , just a quick refresher on Remain in Mexico right there. It was a Trump era policy that forced asylum seekers to live in Mexico while their cases were adjudicated. The reason it's so controversial is because the entire asylum system is built on the assumption that people going through it are in the U.S.. So by moving people from the U.S. to Mexico , there's a whole issue of problems from people don't have transportation to get the court dates , they don't have permanent addresses or the court can't communicate with them. They can't find immigration lawyers willing to represent them. And they're living in dangerous Mexican towns. A lot of people there were thousands of cases of of people being robbed , beaten , sexually assaulted , kidnapped. So that's the policy. BIDEN Before he became president , one of his campaign promises was to restore a humane asylum system. And getting rid of this policy was one of the main ways he was going to do that. He got blocked by lower courts and by lower federal judges. And this is kind of where we're here now in terms of today , like , you know , a few days removed from the decision. Nothing has changed. All that decision does was it gave the Biden administration the authority to get rid of it. Advocates were quick to say like , hey , get rid of it , do it now we're waiting. Come on , the ball is on your court , and that's kind of where we're at. For the migrants in the program and other asylum seekers at the border right now , nothing has really changed , practically speaking.
S1: And Union-Tribune columnist Michael Smolens is also with us. Michael , there's another case that's rooted in immigration working its way through the courts. You wrote about it recently.
S2: The frustrating thing is that as. Divisive as immigration is on so many levels. This is the one program that people like across the board. I mean , certainly more Democrats and liberals support it than Republicans , but there's majorities across the political spectrum. And while the impossibility of getting a comprehensive immigration package through Congress has been there for decades , it just seems ridiculous that they can't at least slice this out and , you know , codify it and keep this cloud from a lot of the cloud away from hanging over these people's heads. There's like , I think , 600,000 plus people who still don't know about their future. And by and large , they are I don't want to say as American as us for me , but they've been here most of their lives. This is the country they know. And just the notion that they could be deported to what to a lot of them when they came as young children would be almost like a foreign country , even if they were born there. You know , largely working students , military veterans. It is just like a tragedy and just a real sign of the dysfunctional politics in Congress. Hmm.
S1: You're listening to KPBS Roundtable. Our guests this week are Kristin Wong from Calmatters , Gustavo Solis here with KPBS News and Michael Smolens from the San Diego Union-Tribune. Kristin , let's get your take on another big ruling. We're talking about the EPA , one that limits the agency's work to regulate power plant emissions. It's part of a larger climate change issue , which ultimately becomes a public health issue.
S3: California historically has gotten sort of codified into federal law , exemptions into the Clean Air Act , because we are sort of unique in our population density and our reliance on cars. And so we've historically , you know , taken much stricter measures to limit emissions both from the tailpipe and from other energy sources , which has made a real , tangible difference. I remember when my parents came to California in like the eighties , they lived in San Bernardino , in the Inland Empire , and they said that they didn't know there were mountains because the smog was so bad. So we've made a lot of progress in the state. And experts are saying that this this Supreme Court decision is not necessarily likely to have much impact in California , because most of our energy sources , coal has pretty much disappeared from our energy grid. But California kind of can't solve climate change on its own. And certainly , you know , air quality issues don't respect a state border. So this is something that is more of a of a nation wide problem. And for as much as California can try to do , it's it's something that has to be an all in issue.
S1: There's been some other significant rulings by the Supreme Court and the ruling like on concealed carry weapons comes to mind. We want to ask everyone , is there anything else that's gotten your attention from these rulings ? We'll start with Michael and then go Gustavo to Kristin.
S2: Well , you mentioned the concealed weapon issue. Just the other day , the court did toss back the large capacity gun magazine ban in California back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now that the Supreme Court didn't overturn the ban , but it ordered the Ninth Circuit to revisit its ruling upholding the ban because of recent rulings on the New York gun law that concealed weapons permit. So we're just seeing a sea change in a lot of issues that are social issues and public safety issues and health issues that are not quite what I think we're accustomed to. But we've been sort of or warned that this court was going to probably do some things differently. And they in that respect , I guess they haven't disappointed.
S1:
S4: They remain in Mexico and there was no docket decision. But we might get one next session. It just kind of tells us where we're at with with immigration policy in this country. Right. I mean , Michael , you mentioned. Right. There's not going to be anything coming out of Congress on this. There hasn't been anything in a couple of decades. Most significant immigration policies have come through just executive actions by the president or court decisions. We're kind of in a weird space where that is how policy gets done. That impacts hundreds of thousands of people. It impacts businesses and how they can import new workers and families on how they can kind of stop being separated. It's frustrating watching it because the people who should be doing something , the legislatures just have kind of abdicated. Their responsibility on this one issue is really strange to see. I mean , we'll look at President Biden , right ? He made promises on immigration and he's gotten a lot of heat from from liberal activists for for kind of ignoring the issue , focusing on infrastructure , a little bit of health care , inflation. It seems like I've heard it from from activists like border communities get forgotten over and over again by by both parties. It's not kind of a partisan thing. So I think that's kind of what what I was looking at and hearing on the ground in terms of what was happening with the Supreme Court decisions. Just kind of a reminder of immigration being at the bottom of the of the totem pole.
S1:
S3: And I think just to add to that , in the dissent for the Dobbs decision which overturned Roe , the three liberal justices penned a pretty foreboding warning that the one of the most concerning people for abortion , one of the most concerning issues for people who support abortion rights , is that the ruling did not limit the federal government's ability to prohibit abortions nationwide. There is no language saying that this is something that will be up to the states , which really leaves the door open for a Republican controlled Congress to ban abortions. No matter what happens in California with California's law or Constitution. Like Michael said , this is still an issue that gets a lot of political attention. So I think that looking ahead there , this is not an issue that is sort of case closed. There will still be a lot to happen.
S1: Well , wiping out a constitutional right that's been in place for 50 years like abortion , it leaves a lot of people thinking what could be coming next ? We heard Justice Clarence Thomas himself say that maybe it's time to revisit things like same sex marriage and contraceptives. Do any of you have thoughts on the pushback that this may generate or , you know , maybe some of the trust that people have in the court system and anybody can take this one.
S2: Matt , as we've seen the polls , you know , for what they're worth , show that the trust in the court or the court's credibility is I don't know if it's an all time low , but it's really dropped. And the sort of gyrations that they've put the country through just in a matter of weeks has a lot to do with that. You know , I know that the conservatives argue well , it really was you know , you're looking at the flip side of what was happening for many years when you had , you know , more Democratic oriented or liberal majorities on the court. So , you know , we're we're kind of seeing that. And , you know , one thing that I wanted to mention , you know , getting back to that , actually , the ruling on the EPA aspect that , you know , the court said , okay , these emissions , this is a matter for Congress , not the EPA. And , you know , if we start seeing that more with Congress , even if the Republicans get a majority , you know , filibusters and things like that could really continue the gridlock. And we'll just be in limbo , allowing these situations to hang out there without improvement. You know , we'll have to see how docket goes on the executive order. But if talk is left to Congress , you know , there might not be any movement there and that could just expire. So we're really in for some interesting and maybe difficult times.
S1: Well , we're going to have to wrap up our discussion there. There's so much more to talk about here. I want to thank our guest this week , Gustavo Solis from KPBS , Michael Smolens from the San Diego Union-Tribune , and Christine Wong from Calmatters. You can stream the KPBS Roundtable podcast anytime at PBS.org. I met Hoffman. Thanks so much for being here with us and we'll be back with you next week.

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Bennett Lacy
A billboard for Planned Parenthood in San Diego's Bay Park neighborhood ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that led to prohibitions on abortion in some states.
California tries to bolster abortion access in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling to allow states to decide whether to legalize the procedure.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion on major U.S. Supreme Court rulings in recent days on abortion and the asylum process. Guests include CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang, KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis and San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Michael Smolens.