Our Best Stuff From a Big Week at the Supreme Court
What will become of Roe v. Wade?
Happy Saturday! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and didn’t miss this newsletter too much. After a very quiet holiday last year, we had family in town and multiple days of celebrating. It was a lovely time, except for a few hours on Saturday when my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes lost to Michigan for the first time in a decade.
The biggest story of the week was the Supreme Court arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Whole Women’s Health, as the court considers the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks. The court could decide to uphold the law and overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that upheld Roe but changed the framework for acceptable abortion restrictions from one based on trimesters to one based on fetal viability. Or it could uphold the Mississippi law on narrow grounds and leave Roe and Casey in place. (The court could also strike down the Mississippi law. Given that there are six conservative justices, and based on reporting from the arguments, however, I would not bet my kids’ college savings accounts on that outcome.)
I mention this not to jump in with my own punditry on the matter. For one thing, few people write as eloquently on this issue than our own David French. Plus, he and Sarah, who are both lawyers, are far better equipped to discuss the jurisprudence. (And in fact they did in a fantastic episode of Advisory Opinions. Listen!)
No, I bring it up because of a tweet I saw earlier this week. Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, shared a letter she got after writing from a pro-life perspective for the New York Times. The letter writer said “With luck every woman in your family is raped and pregnant as a result, then forced to give birth to a psychopath’s baby.”
Once upon a time, I used to write a little about abortion. I was the only conservative woman at Slate, and we had a blog about women’s issues where I got to write about pretty much whatever I wanted. I hoped that perhaps if I wrote thoughtfully and carefully about the issue within a largely liberal environment that, even if I couldn’t change any minds, I could at least have a positive effect on the discourse. No luck. I don’t remember being subjected to anything as vile as the comments that Prior faced, but I was called a misogynist more than once. And self-loathing. I was told I wasn’t allowed to call myself a feminist.
Eventually, I just stopped. It’s not that I didn’t have thick skin. It’s not that I thought my opinions and writing were above critique or even reproach. And I will add that having intelligent exchanges with some of the more thoughtful pro-choice writers did change some of my thinking. It’s that abortion is an immensely emotional issue, and I hated feeling my blood pressure go up when I read the worst of the comments. I hated wasting mental energy formulating responses that I knew I’d never put on paper, because I didn’t want to get down in the mud like that.
Now, the world has been just fine without my musings. There are smarter and better people who do that everyday. Like Karen Swallow Prior, for example. But reactions like that do have a chilling effect on the discourse. And when people who want to engage respectfully on an issue put themselves on the sidelines, we all suffer.
I will also say that it’s not just pro-life women who are subject to such vitriol. There are plenty of pro-choice writers who have sincere and carefully considered beliefs in support of abortion rights. And they get called “baby killers.” That’s not better. Because here’s the thing. Abortion will always be a fraught issue. It’s conventional wisdom by now that with Roe, the Supreme Court heightened the tensions by taking the matter away from states. But even without that, abortion is an issue where two parties have competing fundamental rights. Pro-lifers who dismiss that pregnancy can be a risk to a woman’s health and that carrying an unwanted pregnancy is a significant burden are no better than pro-choicers who call the unborn a “clump of cells” or a “parasite.”
I imagine that this is an issue of concern to many of you reading this newsletter. As you seek out information, please consider reading not just David French or Ross Douthat or Karen Swallow Prior. Look for smart coverage from writers like Caitlin Flanagan. Read my friend Will Saletan. Read this piece that ran in the New York Times this week by a woman who got pregnant at 19 and described how getting married and giving birth affected her. You don’t have to agree with them if you’re pro-life. But they can provide important perspectives. And, if you do disagree with them, please think twice before dashing off a comment that you might regret later.
Enjoy your weekend and thank you as always for reading.
Andy Smarick wrote this as a preview to the Supreme Court arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Whole Women’s Health that took place on Wednesday. But his predictions as to what to watch for were spot-on, and it’s worth reviewing them here as the decision itself likely won’t come down for months. While the court has a 6-3 split between conservatives and liberals, and while it’s likely that all six believe that Roe and Casey were wrongly decided, that doesn’t make it a slam dunk. Smarick writes about how Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh are “conservative in judicial philosophy but also conservative in temperament. Their restraint reveals itself in a number of ways—for example, penning narrow decisions, avoiding dramatic holdings, and hoping to maintain the court’s public standing.” He predicted that the key to overturning Roe would be whether the state of Mississippi could offer a sound alternative.
If you watch cable news and pay attention to ratings, you know that Fox News is by far the most popular news network on the airwaves. But the network’s online presence is vastly more dominant. In French Press (🔐), David shares a chart showing that FoxNews.com gets almost 94 million unique visitors a month. The rest of the top 20 conservative websites (sorry folks, we didn’t quite make the cut—share The Dispatch with your friends!), combined get only 59 million. Fox News is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, and everyone else operates with that in mind. “Fox is like a red supergiant star, and each orbiting planet is defined by its presence and its heat. Some of the planets will burn hotter. Some cooler. But they’re all just planets, living in the solar system Fox defines.”
You’ve probably heard by now that part of our mission at The Dispatch is to focus on serious reporting and sober commentary. We’re not going to react to every stupid thing politicians say or wade into every Twitter controversy. But sometimes, we can’t ignore the crazy. And a handful of House Republicans are causing headaches for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy by dealing in a special brand of crazy. Just in the last few weeks, Rep. Paul Gosar shared an anime video depicting him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Rep. Lauren Boebert has joked with constituents that Rep. Ilhan Omar is a terrorist, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has mixed it up with fellow Republican Rep. Nancy Mace, calling her trash. (To which Mace responded that Greene is, as Jonah Goldberg might put it, “bat guano crazy.”) What’s a minority leader to do? In Uphill (🔐), Haley writes that McCarthy has chosen not to do much: “While Republican lawmakers and former senior staff say it’s easy to understand why McCarthy would avoid making enemies in his quest to be speaker after the 2022 midterms, some members are becoming increasingly frustrated with his lax approach, especially as they have come into the crosshairs of the right.”
And now for the best of the rest:
The head of Britain’s MI6 just undertook the unusual task of making a public speech—not exactly something spy chiefs normally do. In Vital Interests, Tom Joscelyn says it was an important move as it’s imperative for the intelligence communities of Western democracies to regain the public’s trust.
In the G-File, Jonah writes about listening to a podcast featuring a climate-science grad student who spent little time talking about climate change and plenty of time talking about social justice. The scientist expressed concern that the academic environment can be “not safe” for people of color. Jonah’s reaction? “Really? Places like Stanford are often unsafe environments for people with ‘minoritized identities’ and ‘bodies of color’?”
Walter Olson writes about what happens when public officials weigh in on criminal trials before verdicts are rendered. Spoiler alert: nothing good. It’s not just that they embarrass themselves, it’s also destructive to the independence of the judiciary.
News out of Turkey doesn’t always penetrate our outrage-heavy, domestic-focused news coverage, but we had two important pieces this week. Eric Edelman and Aykan Erdemir report that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using “hostage diplomacy” to achieve certain ends, and that it’s the Turkish people who are paying the price. And Charlotte looks at why Erdoğan, who has a good personal relationship with Vladimir Putin, is selling drones to Ukraine, which is fighting Russia-backed separatists.
It was a great week on the pods: Jonah’s conversation with Chris Stirewalt on The Remnant is probably the most enjoyable podcast we published this week, as they describe the Build Back Better Act as the “kitchen junk drawer” of legislation. On The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah and Steve interview ABC News’ Jonathn Karl about his new book, Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show. And don’t forget to listen to Sarah and David on the Dobbs arguments on Advisory Opinions.