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Prof. Melissa Murray against black Southwestern Law School backdrop

March 26, 2024

Professor Melissa Murray Delivers the 2024 Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Annual Lecture

Los Angeles, CA — "Dobbs arrives in the wake of a series of high Court decisions ... that have made our democracy decidedly less representative and less democratic," warned Professor Melissa Murray, Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law at NYU Law, to an audience of legal scholars, practitioners, and students at the 2024 Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Lecture at Southwestern Law School. Her lecture, titled "Dobbs and Democracy," explored that erosion of American democracy in detail through a critical examination of the Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision. 

In her lecture, Professor Murray addressed the majority's contention that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey had stifled democratic debate on abortion. Murray noted, "Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion in Dobbs repeatedly claimed that the Court's 1973 decision in Roe had preempted democratic debate and state legislative deliberation on the question of abortion rights." 

Prof. Murray at podium
Prof. Melissa Murray delivering the 2024 Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Annual Lecture.

Murray then critiqued the Dobbs majority's vision of democracy, highlighting its inconsistencies and limitations. She observed, "Although Dobbs traffics in the rhetoric of democracy, its conception of democracy is both internally inconsistent and extraordinarily myopic." This vision, she argued, fails to acknowledge the complexities and nuances of democratic engagement beyond mere legislative action. 

Murray explored the potential implications of the Dobbs decision for reproductive freedom. Among other things, she casted doubt on the Dobbs majority's proclamation that the abortion question is best addressed by each state because it risks creating a disparate set of laws. This could lead to considerable obstacles for those in need of reproductive healthcare, disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities. Murray also highlighted the possibility that such a fragmented approach could lay the groundwork for more extensive national restrictions or even efforts to establish fetal personhood at the federal level, with the goal of banning abortion nationwide. 

The lecture concluded with a lively question-and-answer session, allowing attendees to engage directly with Professor Murray's analysis. One attendee shared, "I am from Iran. I was born and raised in a theocracy, and I know overnight they take away everything from you."  Murray paused, and simply affirmed, "Yes. Correct." 

About the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Annual Lecture: The Montgomery Annual Lecture serves as a vital platform for advancing legal discourse and scholarship. This series aims to serve as a nexus of intellectual engagement and legal thought leadership, drawing eminent scholars, legal practitioners, and thinkers from the legal community.