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The Supreme Court still has 2 opinions to announce before the term ends

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

It's been a blockbuster term for the Supreme Court. And today, the newest justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, will be sworn in, replacing retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The court will also issue opinions in its two remaining cases, which we have been watching closely. One involves the Remain in Mexico policy, and the other centers on the EPA's power to regulate greenhouse gases.

MARTINEZ: Joining us to discuss the cases is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. All right, Nina, so what are these cases about?

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Well, Remain in Mexico is a Trump-era policy that required asylum-seekers, mainly from Central and South America, to either be detained in the U.S. or sent to Mexico, where they've lived in squalid camps while they wait for months and some of them years before they have their asylum claims reviewed. Last June, a year ago, the Biden administration tried to end the policy and substitute its own. But a Trump-appointed federal district court judge ordered the administration to restart the Trump program, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Today, the Supreme Court decides whether those lower court judges overstepped their authority, whether, as the Biden administration claims, the president has broad authority to make and revoke immigration policy under federal immigration law and under the Constitution's authority to conduct foreign policy, or, in the alternative, whether the Biden administration overstepped its authority.

MARTINEZ: All right. Now, a second one is a huge environmental case, as I understand it.

TOTENBERG: Yep, because the decision could hamstring the EPA's efforts to regulate carbon emissions that cause climate change. Specifically at issue in the case are rules adopted by the Trump administration and the Obama administration to deal with carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Those are the single biggest cause of carbon emissions in this country. The Obama plan was broad, the Trump one narrow. The Obama plan was temporarily blocked by the Supreme Court and then revoked by the Trump administration. But amazingly, most utilities continued to abandon coal because it was just too expensive. And even without the regulation in place, the Obama reduction targets for carbon emissions were met 11 years ahead of schedule.

Now, what's so interesting about this case is that neither the Obama nor Trump plan is in effect, and the Biden administration doesn't have a plan on the table yet. But the Supreme Court still reached out to hear this case, and all indications are that to one degree or another, it's going to make it much harder to regulate carbon emissions and potentially many other things as well, using this case as a vehicle, which has, of course, totally spooked environmentalists.

MARTINEZ: Now, the court is also set to issue an orders list. What do we expect there?

TOTENBERG: The court will announce some cases that it plans to take up or not take up next term. One big case that we're watching involves elections. It's from North Carolina, and it involves what's called the independent state legislature doctrine. Get used to that. Basically, the theory could reshape how the United States conducts federal elections. It would give state legislatures independent power that's not subject to review by the state courts. It would also allow them to set election rules that are at odds with their own state constitutions, giving them unfettered power to draw gerrymandered congressional maps, among other things. If the court does take that case, it will add to what's shaping up as another blockbuster term, with cases testing affirmative action in college admissions, gay rights in terms of equal access to commercial services and now potentially the election case, sometimes referred to in legal circles as the 800-pound gorilla.

MARTINEZ: All right, NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, thanks a lot.

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

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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.