Though commentators were just starting to posit that the Azar v. Garza matter was doomed in SCOTUS conference limbo, this week, the Justices issued a unanimous decision. And if you feel like this decision was unexpected, well, you're not alone, as the High Court never heard an oral argument.
The case involved an undocumented teen who needed a court order in order to be allowed to get an abortion. And since the abortion actually happened promptly after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it could, SCOTUS ruled that the case was now moot. As to the sanctions the government sought against the lawyer who they claimed misled the government as to the date of the abortion procedure, SCOTUS was not convinced.
Injunction Solves Nothing
As the Court's opinion explains, an injunction allowing the teen to get the abortion would no longer serve any purpose because the abortion already happened. There's no more need for relief for the Court to uphold. The short opinion explained the Court's "established practice" rather succinctly:
When "a civil case from a court in the federal system . . . has become moot while on its way here," this Court's "established practice" is "to reverse or vacate the judgment below and remand with a direction to dismiss."
And while reversing doesn't have a practical effect on the teen anymore, the government sought the vacatur in order to prevent the lower court's decision from setting bad precedent.
Attorney Off the Hook
While the Court acknowledged that the fact surrounding the attorneys conduct could potentially raise serious issues, it declined to get involved given that the underlying dispute was moot. In closing, the Court did comment on the delicate balance between a lawyer's duty as an officer of the court and their duty of zealous advocacy:
On the one hand, all attorneys must remain aware of the principle that zealous advocacy does not displace their obligations as officers of the court. Especially in fast-paced, emergency proceedings like those at issue here, it is critical that lawyers and courts alike be able to rely on one another's representations. On the other hand, lawyers also have ethical obligations to their clients and not all communication breakdowns constitute misconduct.