The Supreme Court ruled Friday to pause lower court rulings that would have imposed restrictions on mifepristone, keeping the drug accessible while the case proceeds.
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas would not have granted the stay.
Despite the fact that the initial lawsuit rested on dubious standing grounds and was infused with anti-abortion myths, it was strategically placed to travel through a circuit of notoriously right-wing courts up to the far-right Supreme Court.
Even those pounding the alarm about the dangers this case would pose to the Food and Drug Administration’s functioning, drug approval process and the whole pharmaceutical industry harbored doubts that the Court wouldn’t take any opportunity to further restrict abortion rights.
But the widely panned lower court rulings proved a bridge too far even for the Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade.
In his dissent, Alito reels off a series of critiques lodged against the conservative majority for using the shadow docket to hand down rulings with no explanation.
“I did not agree with these criticisms at the time, but if they were warranted in the cases in which they were made, they are emphatically true here,” he huffs. “As narrowed by the Court of Appeals, the stay that would apply if we failed to broaden it would not remove mifepristone from the market.”
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision, at the least, would nix the FDA’s approval of generic mifepristone, potentially taking it off the market.
He then argues that nothing the court says really matters, since the FDA has enforcement discretion in which drugs to target.
“The FDA has previously invoked enforcement discretion to permit the distribution of mifepristone in a way that the regulations then in force prohibited, and here, the Government has not dispelled legitimate doubts that it would even obey an unfavorable order in these cases, much less that it would choose to take enforcement actions to which it has strong objections,” he writes.
The case will now proceed at the Fifth Circuit, which still has to rule on the merits. It’s on an expedited timeline there, with briefs due throughout May. The timing for a final decision from the appeals court is still uncertain; a likely return to the Supreme Court could come after that. The high court said the stay would remain in place until it either refused to take the case or issued a final ruling.
An initial 5th Circuit panel gave the anti-abortion group a favorable ruling, upholding challenges to mifepristone that the FDA had lifted in recent years and potentially removing the FDA approval of generic mifepristone altogether.
A coalition of blue states joined the docket, pointing out that any restriction of mifepristone enforced nationwide would impinge on their rights as states to determine their own abortion regimes — something the Supreme Court claimed was its intention in Dobbs.
See here for the previous update, and there’s a copy of the ruling at the link above. It must be emphasized that this is just putting the lower court ruling on hold while the appeals process plays out. In the end, the Fifth Circuit could rule as it did in partly staying the order, thus taking away mifepristone by mail and other things, on the same lack of evidence and hostility to the idea of abortion, with some unsubtle hints about the Comstock Act. And then SCOTUS could do whatever it wants to do, with some kind of “middle ground” between the completely lawless Kacsmaryk ruling and a full overturn as the goal. We are very much not out of danger. But at least for now, and probably until early next year when the SCOTUS ruling would be likely to be handed down, we’re back at the original status quo. That’s something. TPR, the Trib, Mother Jones, Vox, and Slate have more.