WASHINGTON — The Supreme Courtroom heard arguments in an abortion case on Tuesday, however the subject for the justices was a procedural one: May Kentucky’s legal professional common, a Republican, defend a state abortion legislation when the governor, a Democrat, refused to pursue additional appeals after a federal appeals courtroom struck down the legislation?

Because the argument progressed by means of a thicket of technical points, a majority of the justices appeared inclined to say sure.

“Kentucky perhaps should be there in some kind, and the legal professional common is the one that desires to intervene,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. mentioned.

Extra vital abortion circumstances are on the horizon. In December, the courtroom will hear arguments on whether to overrule Roe v. Wade in a case regarding a Mississippi legislation banning most abortions after 15 weeks. And the justices have been requested to take another look at a Texas law that prohibits most abortions after six weeks, which the courtroom allowed to go into effect final month by a 5-to-4 vote.

Tuesday’s case, Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, No. 20-601, involved a Kentucky legislation that challengers mentioned successfully banned the commonest technique of abortion within the second trimester of being pregnant, dilation and evacuation. The justices barely mentioned the legislation throughout Tuesday’s argument.

Relatively, they targeted on the tangled historical past of the case and the sophisticated jurisdictional and procedural questions that arose from it.

The case began in 2018, when the state’s solely abortion clinic and two medical doctors sued numerous state officers to problem the legislation. The state’s legal professional common on the time, Andy Beshear, a Democrat, mentioned his workplace was not chargeable for implementing the legislation and entered right into a stipulation dismissing the case in opposition to him, agreeing to abide by the ultimate judgment and reserving the fitting to enchantment.

The state’s well being secretary, who had been appointed by a Republican governor, defended the legislation in courtroom. A federal trial courtroom struck the legislation down, saying it was at odds with Supreme Courtroom precedent. The well being secretary appealed, however the legal professional common didn’t.

Whereas the case was transferring ahead, Kentucky’s political panorama shifted. Mr. Beshear, who had been legal professional common, was elected governor. Daniel Cameron, a Republican, was elected legal professional common.

Mr. Beshear appointed a brand new well being secretary, Eric Friedlander, who continued to defend the legislation on enchantment. However after a divided three-judge panel of the US Courtroom of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, affirmed the trial judge’s ruling, Mr. Friedlander declined to hunt assessment from the complete appeals courtroom or the Supreme Courtroom.

Mr. Cameron, the brand new legal professional common, sought to intervene within the appeals courtroom, saying he was entitled to defend the legislation. The appeals courtroom denied his request, ruling that it had come too late.

On Tuesday, the justices probed the importance of the stipulation and the requirements for when appeals courts ought to permit events to intervene within the late levels of a case.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who has taken to asking the primary questions throughout arguments, mentioned “there isn’t a lot legislation” on the suitable requirements.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor mentioned the Sixth Circuit was entitled to take account of the truth that the legal professional common had did not file an enchantment after shedding within the trial courtroom, however the later election of a brand new legal professional common.

“Why would we name it an abuse of discretion for a courtroom of appeals, after it’s rendered its judgment, to say we don’t actually care what has occurred within the political enviornment?” she requested.

Matthew F. Kuhn, a lawyer for Mr. Cameron, mentioned his consumer was appearing in a unique capability when he sought to intervene. He was now, Mr. Kuhn mentioned, representing the pursuits of the state.

About 45 minutes into the argument, Justice Stephen G. Breyer described what he mentioned was actually occurring the case. “First the Republicans are in, then the Democrats are in,” he mentioned, “and so they have totally different views on an abortion statute.”

He described the historical past of the case, ending with the ruling from the three-judge panel of the appeals courtroom.

“At that time, for the primary time, we’ve an legal professional common who thinks it’s a reasonably good statute,” Justice Breyer mentioned. “He desires to defend it.”

“Why can’t he simply are available and defend the legislation?” Justice Breyer requested.

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the challengers, mentioned Mr. Cameron was sure by the stipulation signed by his predecessor. “It doesn’t matter that there’s been a political get together change,” she mentioned.

Justice Elena Kagan mentioned that was each mainly proper and slightly unsettling.

“We now have numerous legislation saying that despite the fact that the legal professional common, the individual, has modified and even the get together has modified, it’s nonetheless the identical authorized entity,” she mentioned.

“However there’s a real-world approach during which that appears to matter so much,” she mentioned. “I imply, that creates the issue right here, which is that there’s no one left defending the state’s legislation.”

Ms. Kolbi-Molinas responded that “jurisdictional guidelines typically end in harsh outcomes.”

Chief Justice Roberts picked up the theme that Justice Breyer and Kagan had pursued.

“As Justice Breyer identified,” the chief justice mentioned, “the state of affairs adjustments a bit when the state representations are shuffled — the deck is shuffled once more — after an election.”