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With summer break approaching, the Supreme Court has a slew of cases to rule on


Presidential immunity, abortion, guns - the Supreme Court is considering a lot of important cases this term. And now that it's the month of June, it's time for the court to issue some rulings. Joining me now to talk about the decisions we're waiting on is NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg. Hi Nina.


RASCOE: So let's start out with a broad overview. How has this term compared with others?

TOTENBERG: Well, let's put it this way. I make a list of the big cases every term at this time of year. Normally, by this time, there are somewhere between four and six big cases that have not been decided yet. But this year, there are - (imitating drumroll) that's the drumroll - 16 cases.

RASCOE: Well, that's a lot (laughter).

TOTENBERG: (Laughter) And while the court almost always finishes its work by the end of June, I think this year the justices will go into July.

RASCOE: And among those big 16 cases this term, what's the biggest one?

TOTENBERG: Probably it's the case testing Trump's claim of immunity from criminal charges for his attempts to overturn Biden's electoral victory in 2020. It is undoubtedly the most important test of presidential power since the Supreme Court's 1974 decision ordering President Nixon to turn over to the Watergate special prosecutor specific - and it turned out, incriminating - tape recordings of his White House conversations. Trump's also implicated in a second case involving the January 6 riot at the Capitol, this one involving a federal statute that makes it a crime to obstruct an official proceeding. It's the most serious offense charged against many of the rioters, and it's one of the charges against Trump too. Aside from those cases, I would say the other biggest cases are two involving abortion, two important gun control cases, and a raft, a raft, of regulatory cases in which business interests are asking the Supreme Court to limit the federal government's regulatory powers.

RASCOE: What are those two abortion cases about?

TOTENBERG: In one, an anti-abortion group is challenging the FDA's rules for prescribing and dispensing abortion pills. Since the court struck down Roe v. Wade two years ago, more than half the women terminating pregnancies in this country use pills, and anti-abortion groups are trying to limit the pills' availability. The other abortion case involves a federal law aimed at ensuring that hospitals don't turn away patients needing emergency care, and specifically, whether the law requires abortions when needed to save not just the mother's life, but also her health.

RASCOE: And the gun cases?

TOTENBERG: Well, one involves a federal law making gun possession a crime for anyone subject to a domestic violence court order. That statute is being challenged, as is the federal ban on so called bump stocks, which can convert legal semi automatic guns into illegal machine guns that can fire up to 800 rounds in a minute.

RASCOE: You also mentioned the raft of regulatory cases the court will decide. Tell us more about these.

TOTENBERG: This all involves what the right calls the administrative state. And this Supreme Court, with a conservative supermajority that includes three Trump appointees, has been very receptive to many such challenges. The biggest of these this term seeks to overturn something called Chevron deference. That doctrine, adopted by the court 40 years ago, says, If the meaning of a statute is ambiguous, courts should defer to the regulators' interpretation of the law - the idea being that agencies have the expertise to fill in the gaps to carry out broad congressional mandates. If the court abandons that doctrine, and there's every indication it will, it's hard to wrap your head around all the ways that regulators would be stymied, from air and water pollution regulations to federal rules on health and food safety, just to name a couple of them.

RASCOE: So, Nina, are there clues about what's going to happen in all these cases you've talked about?

TOTENBERG: Well, we know that the court has not decided roughly half the cases it has before it, including almost all of the most controversial cases. And if you look at the numbers as to which justices have written the most and which justices have written the fewest number of opinions, you can see that the two more senior liberal justices have written the most, meaning they may not have many more majority opinions to write, only dissents. And the court's conservatives, especially the chief justice, have written the fewest, meaning they likely have lots more majority opinions getting ready to drop. None of this is good news for the court's liberals. In fact, in a moment of unusual candor, Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently told an audience at Harvard that there are days that I've come to my office after an announcement of a case and closed my door and cried. And there are likely to be more of those days, she said.

RASCOE: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg. Thank you so much for talking with us.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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