New Wyoming Supreme Court justice to be appointed ahead of abortion case

November 17, 2023

The Wyoming Supreme Court is about to get a new justice, something which could have major implications for a highly controversial case. 

According to the website WyoFile, Justice Keith Kautz will be compelled to retire in March due to a state law that bars judges from serving past the age of 70.  

Kautz first began to practice law 44 years ago

"I’m not tired, I’m not burned out, I don’t feel like I’m not useful. In fact, I feel the opposite," Kautz was quoted as telling WyoFile in a recent interview. 

Still, he went on to acknowledge that "when I signed up for the job, the age [to retire] was 70," adding, "And so I’m not sour grapes."

Kautz was raised on a farm near Huntley, Wyoming and attended Torrington High School before going on to study at the University of Wyoming.

He later practiced as an attorney from 1979 until 1993 when he was made a judge by Wyoming Democratic Gov. Mike Sullivan.

Kautz ascended to the state's highest judicial body in 2015 when he was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Republican Gov. Matt Mead as a replacement for Justice Marilyn Kite after she stepped down.

New state Supreme Court justice will help decide the fate of Wyoming abortion law

Kautz's successor will be chosen by Republican Gov. Mark Gordon, with WyoFile pointing out that Gordon is also the defendant in a lawsuit challenging Wyoming's new abortion law. 

After the United States Supreme Court ruled last year that abortion is not a constitutionally protected right, Wyoming joined a number of states in passing legislation to protect children in the womb. 

However, Fox News reported in March that Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens issued an order blocking the law's enforcement.

While the Wyoming Constitution provides that adults have a constitutional right to make health care decisions, lawmakers included a provision in the bill which specified that abortion does not qualify as health care. 

GOP governor pledged to continue defending law despite lower court ruling

Yet Owens rejected that argument in her ruling, asserting that "[t]he state can not legislate away a constitutional right."

"It’s not clear whether abortion is health care," the state judge went on to insist before adding, "The court has to then decide that."

For his part, Gordon responded by putting out a statement saying that he was disappointed by Owens' decision but would continue to defend the law in court.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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