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Supreme Court decisions on abortion, gun control and religion likely to come soon


Since a draft of the decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked earlier this month, it's easy to forget that a decision has not yet, in fact, been rendered from the Supreme Court and that there are a slate of other decisions, including on gun regulations, likely to come down soon. One person well-tuned into the Supreme Court, as always, is our legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg. Hi, Nina.


PFEIFFER: What gun case or cases are before the court?

TOTENBERG: The court said 13 years ago that as a citizen, you have a right to have a gun in your home for self-defense. The question in this term's case is whether you have a right to carry a gun outside your home. At issue in the case is a New York law that restricts licenses to carry a gun outside the home to people going hunting or shooting or to those who can demonstrate a special need for self-protection, like a messenger carrying cash. Most states don't have such strict laws, but still, some 80 million people do live in states that, like New York, limit concealed carry licenses. And at the oral arguments, it looked as though the conservative majority very likely will strike down the New York law.

PFEIFFER: Nina, how did the court get here?

TOTENBERG: Well, just to recap a little history here. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment right to bear arms guarantees the right to have a gun in your home. But after that, for all practical purposes, when it came to gun regulation, it was crickets at the court. The justices refused to hear almost all the cases brought by gun rights advocates.

PFEIFFER: Was there a reason for that?

TOTENBERG: Well, at that point, the justices were closely divided on these questions. And Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had provided the fifth and decisive vote in 2008, was generally in favor of reasonable gun regulations. And for all I know, Chief Justice Roberts may have been too. But now, Kennedy has retired, and there's a six-justice supermajority on the court, meaning that the conservatives can lose one vote and still prevail. What's more, the three Trump appointees, when they were lower court judges, were generally sympathetic to the arguments put forth by gun rights advocates. And this term, we may see just how sympathetic.

PFEIFFER: Nina, turning back to this term's Roe v. Wade abortion decision, what do we know today about where it is?

TOTENBERG: Well, as you well know, all signs are that the court is on the verge of overturning Roe. And if it does do that, abortions will almost certainly become illegal in about half the country immediately or close to immediately. Justice Alito's draft dated February 10 and its unprecedented leak earlier this month tell that story quite vividly. But word is that there has not been a subsequent opinion circulated, or at least not as of a week or two ago, which suggests that Chief Justice Roberts is likely writing a competing draft and that the other members of the conservative wing, in deference to him, are waiting to see that before they commit themselves formally to all of Alito's language.

PFEIFFER: Are there any major cases that are less high-profile that you're waiting to hear about?

TOTENBERG: Well, there are a couple of huge regulatory cases. Maybe the most significant in terms of climate change is a case that essentially tests whether the Environmental Protection Agency can create a plan of regulations and incentives aimed at reducing carbon emissions from coal-fired plants under the Clean Air Act. And there are also a couple of important religion cases. The most prominent was brought by a high school football coach who claims he has the right to pray on the 50-yard line at school. And there are a couple of important immigration cases, both brought by some Republican states seeking to keep in place Trump administration regulations that the Biden administration has moved to revoke.

PFEIFFER: Do you have any sense of when these other decisions may come down?

TOTENBERG: Nope - just by the end of the term, which usually is pretty much at the beginning of full-fledged summer.

PFEIFFER: NPR's Nina Totenberg. Thank you.

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

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.