Apr 24, 2023

The Supreme Court's abortion pill order.

Plus, breaking news on Tucker Carlson and a reader question about how my views are changing.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

Are you new here? Get free emails to your inbox daily. Would you rather listen? You can find our podcast here.

Today's read: 10 minutes.

We're covering the Supreme Court's abortion pill ruling. Plus, a reader asks how my views are changing and a breaking news story about Tucker Carlson being let go. 

Quick hits.

  1. U.S. special forces evacuated the American embassy in Sudan yesterday, airlifting roughly 100 government workers from the capital as fighting between rival Sudanese commanders enters its ninth day. (The evacuation)
  2. 11 of 20 Florida GOP representatives have now endorsed former President Donald Trump over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (The endorsements)
  3. Russia's air force accidentally bombed Belgorod, its own city, which lies 25 miles east of the Russia-Ukraine border. At least three people were injured. (The accident)
  4. Bud Light's VP of marketing Alissa Heinerscheid and her boss Daniel Blake were placed on leave. Both were involved in the marketing campaign with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. (The moves)
  5. Jury selection begins today in the trial of the man accused of killing 11 people at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. (The selection)
  6. BREAKING: Fox News announced it has parted ways with Tucker Carlson, whose last show aired on Friday, April 21. (The news)

Today's topic.

The Supreme Court's mifepristone order. On Friday night, the Supreme Court granted a request from the Biden administration and a drug manufacturer to put a Texas judge's ruling on hold that would have suspended the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the abortion drug mifepristone, SCOTUSblog reported.

We covered Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk's ruling in a previous edition of Tangle.

Medication abortions account for over half of all abortions performed in the United States. The Supreme Court's decision to suspend Kacsmaryk's ruling sends the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which will hear arguments next week. In practice, the order means the FDA’s approval will stand as that case plays out, and the drug will remain widely available in states where abortion remains legal. If the plaintiffs win in the 5th Circuit, the Biden administration will appeal to the Supreme Court, which would hear the case in the summer of 2024.

Kacsmaryk had sided with challengers who argued that the FDA approved the drug despite legitimate safety concerns and had expanded its availability during the pandemic beyond what that approval had allowed. The Biden administration challenged that ruling to the 5th Circuit, which blocked a part of the ruling that suspended the FDA's approval but allowed the part of Kacsmaryk's order that limits overmail access to the drug to stand. In response, the Biden administration appealed directly to the Supreme Court, which sided with their appeal and kept the entire order on hold while the government's challenge plays out in the 5th Circuit.

The Supreme Court’s decision came with just two dissents. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they would have denied the Biden administration's request, though neither directly defended Kacsmaryk's ruling. Instead, Alito penned a four page dissent in which he argued that the court did not need to act now, saying that allowing the ruling to stand would keep mifepristone available in the manner it had been up until 2016.

Alito also criticized Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Amy Coney Barrett, who have questioned the use of the so-called "shadow docket” in the past, while they used this emergency order to keep mifepristone available.

Today, we're going to take a look at some responses to the order from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left applaud the ruling, but criticize Alito's dissent.
  • Some argue Alito is proving to be an over-the-top, partisan justice.
  • Others say this is not the end of attacks on the abortion pill.

In The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin said the court delivered a sigh of relief "and an outrageous dissent."

Justice Alito's dissent is "yet another example of his intemperate, partisan rhetoric," and"perfectly encapsulates" how unmoored from reason he has become. Alito asserts there would be "no irreparable injury in denying the stay" because the Biden administration has not dispelled "legitimate doubts" that it would obey the court's order on mifepristone. "This unprecedented attack on the government’s obedience to court rulings — based on nothing — is out of order. There is zero evidence — stray pundits and legislative backbenchers don’t count — that the Biden administration would essentially put itself in contempt of court."

Alito also "demonstrates that he does not care one whit about the women affected if the drug were suddenly made unavailable." He also accuses the government of judge-shopping by going to the 9th Circuit to get a contrary opinion, which "takes some nerve" given that antiabortion activists "searched out a single-district division in Amarillo, Tex., where they were certain to draw a judge who embraces their cause."

In The Atlantic, Mary Ziegler said the justices passed on an abortion pill ban — until they hear a better case.

Abortion rights supporters can draw an optimistic reading from the stay, Ziegler said. "Only Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented, and not even Alito (the only dissenting justice who wrote anything) expressed any support for the plaintiffs’ arguments," Ziegler said. "Rather than discuss the plaintiffs’ standing or the merits of their case, Alito preferred to complain that the FDA had not shown that it would have been injured had the Fifth Circuit ruling gone into effect, because regulators would likely have used their discretion not to go after unapproved uses of mifepristone."

But there were "deep problems with the plaintiffs' case" and it was hard to argue "with a straight face" they had standing to sue. "Kacsmaryk and the Fifth Circuit prepared the way for a reading of the Comstock Act as a nationwide abortion ban, and abortion-rights opponents will file other suits to take advantage. Already, Idaho passed a law limiting interstate travel for an abortion—the first such state restriction and part of a strategy that, if successful, could empower conservative states to limit the ability of progressive ones to treat patients from elsewhere."

In Slate, Mark Joseph Stern said the Court stopped a "lawless judicial effort" to ban the drug.

"Not a single justice even tried to defend the decision by Kacsmaryk," Stern said. "Friday’s stay sends a strong message to the lower courts that SCOTUS will not entertain this cynical attempt to impose new nationwide restrictions—and potentially even a ban—on abortion." This is a "good omen" for this case, as "even the two dissenters could not bring themselves to pretend that the lower courts got it right."

Alito railed against the emergency order, "and accused his fellow justices of hypocrisy for intervening here." He also claimed the 5th Circuit's decision would have merely reinstated restrictions that existed until 2016. "That’s not remotely true," Stern said. "The 5th Circuit’s decision would bar mifepristone’s manufacturer from distributing the drug for months" and would have raised "the very real possibility that Kacsmaryk could hold both FDA officials and drugmakers in contempt" depending on how they distributed the drug.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is divided, with some arguing that this was the right ruling and others saying Alito made strong points in his dissent.
  • Some criticize Democrats for embracing the "illegitimate" Supreme Court when it rules in their favor.
  • Others argue mifepristone is dangerous and the courts should limit its use.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said "America's supposed descent into 'The Handmaid’s Tale' was put on pause."

"Note the irony of progressives praising the same High Court they call a threat to democracy and women’s rights," the board wrote. "As we’ve written, the role of judges doesn’t include second-guessing the FDA’s judgments unless it violates procedure or the law. It’s also questionable whether the anti-abortion physicians have demonstrated a sufficiently concrete injury that is traceable to the FDA’s actions to have legal standing to sue," the board said.

In his dissent, Justice Alito "made some valid points about procedural issues without expressing a view on the merits of the case. He hoisted the liberal Justices on their past criticisms of the Court’s conservatives for deciding cases on the emergency docket." Several Democrats suggested the FDA ignore the court order on the premise the U.S. legal process can't be trusted. "Well, apparently it can," the board said.

In RedState, Becca Lower agreed with the points made in Alito's dissent.

"The Democrats and their allies in the abortion business couldn’t be rejoicing louder over the temporary move, which keeps restrictions on the distribution of the drug from taking effect in states across the country," Lower said. "Those changes would have included requiring women to see a doctor in person before receiving the pills, and banning the ability for someone to order them by mail." Alito was right that for 16 years, three administrations defended previous rules for mifepristone.

"The unfettered access to abortion is a religious tenet of the modern Democrat Party, which voters should keep in mind when they pull the lever in 2024. It’s a stance that’s widely out of step with the majority of Americans," she wrote, adding that Biden is the most "abortion-friendly" president the United States has ever had. "The legal fight didn’t end with what SCOTUS did Friday; they sent it back to lower courts, specifically the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals... We’ll see where this goes from here."

In Townhall, Rebecca Downs said the "common but dangerous" abortion pill method "will remain available and unchanged."

The ruling "does not mean that the decision was 7-2," just that only Thomas and Alito have made their dissent public. That Biden put out a statement so quickly supporting the ruling "is especially concerning," and he is "ignoring how the FDA made changes in December 2021 to make the method even less safer [sic] and less regulated." Now, "women can receive abortion-inducing drugs in the mail, without an in-person visit," Downs said.

"In November of 2021, just before the FDA made their decision, the Charlotte Lozier Institute released a peer reviewed journal that showed emergency room visits went up 507 percent between 2002 and 2015 following this method, and that 60 percent of visits were incorrectly attributed to miscarriages," Downs said. "The FDA appears to have a pattern of dangerous behavior, as it did not properly look to studies showing adverse effects from the method."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.

  • This was the right decision, and a sign this case will fail if it ever reaches the Supreme Court.
  • Everything happened almost exactly how I predicted, which was nice.
  • This could put abortion right back in the thick of the 2024 presidential race.

When we covered this story two weeks ago, I took an unusually black and white stance in "my take." This is what I wrote:

Regardless of my feelings on abortion or Roe v. Wade, the argument is much less complex. Judge Kacsmaryk is wrong. He has overstepped, bent the law to match his activism, and opened a can of worms that both undermines the legitimacy of our courts and further pushes the envelope on what politically motivated judges are willing to do in public view... The plaintiffs don't have standing, the approval is beyond the statute of limitations to be challenged, and Kacsmaryk ignores decades of precedent on laws like the Comstock Act...

The extremism of Kacsmaryk's ruling, and the disingenuous nature of it, are self-evident. Of course, in today's tribalized politics, it's hard to criticize your own team. So you end up with weasley sentences like the ones in the Journal's editorial: "Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk agreed but made several legal leaps," or "this is a legal stretch."

I also said that the Biden administration "should get this case before the Supreme Court as soon as possible," adding that "I'm quite confident the court, even with its conservative majority, will recognize the layered fallacies of Kacsmaryk's injunction and correct this wrong."

While it’s unbecoming to take a victory lap, I’m pretty happy with my prediction on how this would turn out. Quite a few liberal readers wrote in asking how I could trust the "illegitimate" Supreme Court, which they view as totally captured by right-wing theocracy. But the Court cannot be described so simply, is not illegitimate, and functioned exactly as it should have in this case. All three Trump-appointed justices backed the stay, and notably absent from Alito's dissent — which I admit was over-the-top and discouraging — was a single sentence defending Kacsmaryk's ruling or where the 5th Circuit had landed.

It was clear to anyone who gave Kacsmaryk's ruling an honest look that it was pure judicial activism. Kudos to the Wall Street Journal editorial board, pro-life activist Patrick Brown, and several writers at Reason Magazine who spoke out against their own "team" and called out the unreasonableness of the ruling in real time. We should do more to celebrate honest brokers like that in today's increasingly tribal political landscape.

For now, mifepristone will remain as is — available under the gold standard approval of the FDA and out of the reach of  lone activist judges, like Kacsmaryk. If the plaintiffs win in the 5th Circuit, the Supreme Court would hear arguments a little more than a year from now, and it seems likely the case’s plaintiffs will be the same (unless a new argument is found). Perhaps more interestingly, this case could now fall smack dab in the middle of the 2024 presidential campaign season, something I'm sure many Democrats will be happy to use to their political advantage.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Would you say that you have moved more to the left or to the right after starting Tangle?

— Mary from Pepeekeo, Hawaii

Tangle: This is an interesting question, which I’ll respond to first with two points I’ve made before: First, as I've said since interviewing him, I think historian Hyrum Lewis is right that there is a myth of the left and right. There are no fixed poles on either side with clear ideological stances attached to them. Instead, there are left and right tribes whose positions and values constantly evolve in response to current events. So it's hard to say whether I have changed or the poles have changed.

Second, my political leanings are very issue-dependent. For example, my views on prison have moved further to the left while my views on the Trump-Russia story have moved more to the right.

Overall, I'd say the sum of those movements has been slightly to "the right," in the way most people understand the right. I think a big reason why is that the strongest arguments on the right are still harder to find in the media than the strongest arguments on the left. I could easily encounter very good liberal arguments on most big issues while working as a political journalist, but since dedicating my life to seeking out an equal amount of conservative opinions, I’ve gotten more exposure to the best thinkers on the right.

Most of the "mainstream" or "corporate" media still caricatures the conservative view, or elevates the most "far-right" folks in the Republican party (e.g. Marjorie Taylor Greene). The right obviously misrepresents the opposition too (just watch primetime Fox News, where all the most outlandish liberals are made out to be the mainstream), but I think it’s easier to passively miss the strong conservative arguments than vice versa.

The movement is very much a mixed bag, though. The last few years have made me far more cynical about the most popular right-wing pundits and politicians, who seem increasingly disinterested in promoting policy or winning hearts or minds in favor of "owning the libs." I’ve also become more cynical about the Democratic party, which for its part seems to be pushing its identity more and more towards "Trump is bad." Paradoxically, both tribes are less appealing to me now than they were five years ago.

If anything, working on Tangle has made me much more confident in the complexity of our biggest political issues. I am way, way more skeptical of anyone who says they have the answer, and far more interested in the people who marry ideas from across the political spectrum to solve our big problems by consensus.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

On Thursday, Judiciary Committee Republicans and Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) shared excerpts from an interview with former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell. In the interview, Morell said Secretary of State Antony Blinken was the "impetus" for the public statement signed by current and past intelligence officials alleging the Hunter Biden laptop story was a Russian disinformation campaign. Morell alleged that Blinken, then a campaign adviser for candidate Biden, called him and asked for his opinion on the story. Morell also said he participated in the letter because he wanted Biden to win. Democrats have accused Jordan of a selective leak that omitted Morell saying plainly he was never asked to make the statement. Fox News has the story, and the pushback.


  • 64%. The percentage of Americans who said they oppose laws banning access to medication abortion, according to a new NPR/Marist poll.
  • 35%. The percentage of Americans who said they support laws banning access to medication abortion, according to a new NPR/Marist poll.
  • 55%. The percentage of Republicans who said they oppose laws banning access to medication abortion.
  • 73%. The percentage of Democrats who said they oppose laws banning access to medication abortion.
  • 44%.  The percentage of Republicans who said they support laws banning access to medication abortion.
  • 26%. The percentage of Democrats who said they support laws banning access to medication abortion.


On Friday, we published a subscribers-only piece on how a bill becomes law. We broke down the process by going beyond just the Civics 101 to focus on how lobbying, backdoor deals, and earmarks get things done. Tangle interviewed four congressional staffers (off the record) for some insight. You can read the story here.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

For decades, technologists have been trying to find a way to perfect carbon capture. But a new discovery by scientists might be the microbial version of what they have long sought. Researchers say cyanobacterium, which was found in September in a volcanic hot spring in Italy, gobbles up carbon dioxide "astonishingly quickly." The researchers are hoping to use microbes that have naturally evolved to capture CO2 as a way to remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. Some companies, like LanzaTech, are already harnessing bacteria to capture CO2 and turn it into commercial fuels. Elon Musk and Shell are also backing CyanoCapture, which uses cyanobacteria to create biomass and biological oils. The Guardian has the story.

Before you go...

Remember: We have no investors, a small team, and are up against all the divisive, partisan, sensational news outlets in the world. There are so many ways to support us — please consider taking one action to help!

📣  Share Tangle on Twitter here, Facebook here, or LinkedIn here.

🎥 Follow us on Instagram here or subscribe to our YouTube channel here

💵  If you like our newsletter, drop some love in our tip jar.

🎉 Want to reach 58,000+ people? Fill out this form to advertise with us.

📫  Forward this to a friend and tell them to subscribe (hint: it's here).

🛍  Love clothes, stickers and mugs? Go to our merch store!

Subscribe to Tangle

Join 90,000+ people getting Tangle directly to their inbox!