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Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists submitted amicus briefs in the Dobbs case that resulted in the Supreme Court overturning the Roe v. Wade decision this week.

What could be the relevance of opinions by these organizations? I believe (based on interviews I heard from their representatives today) they argued based on the medical impacts of unwanted pregnancies and abortions on the women involved. But SCOTUS's job isn't to decide whether a law is a good idea or bad, just whether it's constitutional. There's nothing in the Constitution that prohibits laws with adverse medical effects (except for prisoners, who are protected from cruel and unusual punishment); some might even argue that the 2nd Amendment prohibits gun control laws that would make people safer (this same week SCOTUS ruled that New Yorks' concealed carry law was unconstitutional). Roe was decided based primarily on an interpretation of the 14th Amendment; the Dobbs decision maintains that this interpretation was mistaken ("eggregiously wrong" is the phrase used in the opinion). Since the 14th Amendment doesn't say anything about medical issues, what difference does this make?

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The Constitution does not state your opinion of SCOTUS's job, instead it just says that there shall be one supreme court with judicial power, and it says what kind of cases are within the jurisdiction of that court. Thus The Constitution does not mandate whether rulings will adhere to the doctrine of stare decisis, will be based only on a narrowly literal interpretation of The Constitution, or will be based on a general sense of justice. The Constitution also does not say anything about the rules of that Supreme Court, therefore the court is free to set its own rules, and to allow or to not allow amicus briefs.

Many points raised in amicus briefs fall on deaf ears, sometimes because they are based on non-shared legal assumptions. You can read a very brief summary of the over 140 amicus briefs in this case here. If you read various SCOTUS opinions over the past 225+ years, you will see that the court does make reference to fact, not just statements of the law and constitution. This brings it well within the scope of "potentially relevant" to determine some fact. The lawyers get to argue how facts relate to legal conclusions, but the basic fodder for any legal decision is some set of facts.

The specific briefs you mentioned are: Pro-Life Obstetricians and College of Obstetricians. The latter's argument is self-summarized as

Amici’s position is that laws regulating abortion should be evidence-based, supported by a valid medical or scientific justification, and designed to improve—not harm—women’s health

Pro-Life Obsetricians' position is self-summarized as support for a law that

rationally furthers Mississippi’s interest in protecting women’s health from risks posed by later- term abortions, which are now well established in the literature

These statements refer to interpretive doctrines previously established by SCOTUS, but not literally expressed in The Constitution. In US v. Carolene Products Company, 304 U.S. 144 introduced concepts of constitutionality (not literally stated in The Constitution) whereby cases could be reviewed either with "strict scrutiny" for protection of Constitutional rights or else discernment of a "rational interest" in government taking a certain action. Either of these kinds of judicial review require a comparison of law to "the facts". Hence "the facts" can be legally relevant.

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  • Now that I think of it, even if the Constitution did mandate how they should decide, who could overrule them if they violate it? The only risk they have is impeachment.
    – Barmar
    Jun 25 at 15:18
  • And that seems to be a very low risk. Only one Supreme Court Justice has been impeached, and he was acquitted, while one other Justice resigned under threat of impeachment.
    – Barmar
    Jun 25 at 15:21
  • Thanks for the answer, BTW. So my assumption of SCOTUS's duty is more of a tradition than a requirement.
    – Barmar
    Jun 25 at 15:28

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