If it is not necessary to decide more to dispose of a case…

But that is all I would say, out of adherence to a simple yet fundamental principle of judicial restraint: If it is not necessary to decide more to dispose of a case, then it is necessary not to decide more.

— Chief Justice John Roberts, concurring in judgment, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 597 U. S. ____ (2022).

Jacob Sullum, writing at Reason, “John Roberts and the Path SCOTUS Did Not Take on Abortion”:

Roberts’ partial concurrence argues that the majority violated “a simple yet fundamental principle of judicial restraint” by going further than was necessary to resolve the case. He notes that Mississippi initially said the Court could uphold its law without completely renouncing the right to abortion identified in Roe and upheld in Casey. That position is reflected in the way the state framed the main question for the Court when it sought review of the 5th Circuit decision rejecting the 15-week ban: “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

After the Court agreed to hear the case, however, Mississippi broadened its argument, urging the justices to hold that the Constitution does not protect a right to abortion at all. “The Court now rewards that gambit,” Roberts writes, “noting three times that the parties presented ‘no half-measures’ and argued that ‘we must either reaffirm or overrule Roe and Casey.'” As Roberts sees it, the Court should have stuck with the question as originally presented. “If it is not necessary to decide more to dispose of a case,” he says, “then it is necessary not to decide more.”

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