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As the Supreme Court term nears its end, a number of decisions remain


The Supreme Court has a large number of major cases to decide and only days left to do it. By tradition, the high court typically finishes its work by the end of June, but it may need more time this year. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the docket, and she joins me now to talk more about it. Welcome, Carrie.


FLORIDO: Hey. So it's that time of year when Supreme Court watchers tend to be on pins and needles waiting for decisions. So what are you watching for?

JOHNSON: Well, I've been watching and waiting since April for the Supreme Court to decide a really big question - whether Donald Trump deserves immunity from criminal prosecution for some of the actions he took in the White House in the days leading up to and after the assault on the U.S. Capitol three years ago.

As you know, I cleared my schedule this year for a trial of Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. But that case, which involves Trump's effort to cling to power in 2020, has been on hold for months. The Supreme Court could have acted back in December. It did not. Instead, it took this case months later, scheduled argument for late April, and the chances of a trial starting before the election now look pretty low. The Supreme Court has announced decisions are coming again Wednesday. That would be one day before the first debate between Joe Biden and Trump.

FLORIDO: That Trump case is not the only one that revolves around the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. What else are the justices mulling about that event?

JOHNSON: The justices are considering how the Justice Department has used an obstruction statute. Congress passed that law after the Enron scandal more than 20 years ago. But lawyers for many of the people who busted into the Capitol say it should not apply to them because their cases did not involve efforts to destroy evidence or papers like the Enron cases did. Prosecutors have used this obstruction law in about 350 January 6-related cases. So depending on how the justices rule, it could upend dozens of cases and even lead some people to be released from prison.

Important to note that two of the four charges that Donald Trump faces in Washington, D.C., relate to this obstruction law. So a decision here also has the potential to wipe away half of that case against him.

FLORIDO: Carrie, the proper role of the federal government is an issue on the campaign trail this summer. But it's also a question before the Supreme Court in a case that you covered. What is at stake there?

JOHNSON: Yeah. This may be the most important case in administrative law in more than a generation. Right now, federal agencies have a lot of power to write rules for the environment, to regulate companies on health and safety. When Congress passes a law, but there may be some gap or uncertainty, the current system allows regulators to step in and clarify. But big business interests have challenged that status quo. They want to yank power away from federal regulators and give it to federal judges instead. The government lawyer in this case has called the idea a convulsive shock to the current system, one that would produce waves of lawsuits and gum up the works at federal agencies. But at oral argument this year, the conservative justices seem likely to throw out this precedent or at least impose some really severe limits on it.

FLORIDO: Finally, Carrie, the justices are confronting a bunch of social issues, leaving those until the final days, as they often do. What is on the docket there?

JOHNSON: There's another case where abortion is at the center. After the Supreme Court removed the right to an abortion a couple of years ago, the Biden administration said it would rely on an emergency law. That law says hospitals that receive federal funds must provide stabilizing care for people whose life or health is in serious jeopardy, and sometimes that kind of care means an abortion.

This particular case involves Idaho, which has a law on the books that says abortion is only possible when the mother's life is at stake. The justices this term kept the status quo with respect to medication abortion and access to the drug mifepristone. But it's not clear where they will come out on this Idaho law, and it could impact other states, too.

FLORIDO: I've been speaking with NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. 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.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is NPR's National Justice Correspondent.
Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.