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Week in politics: Decisions from the Supreme Court supermajority reshape the U.S.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Supreme Court wrapped up its term with another stunning decision that signals its sharp turn to the right with a new supermajority. The same six conservative justices who overturned Roe v. Wade last month have restricted the ability of the Biden administration to limit carbon emissions from power plants. The case has thrown into doubt not only the president's efforts to limit climate change, but also the ability of the executive branch to issue regulations in other areas as well. To discuss this and other decisions handed down this term, we're joined by NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

Ron, good morning.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Melissa.

BLOCK: The Environmental Protection Agency says that Congress gave it the authority to regulate power plants through the Clean Air Act in 1972. Why didn't the Supreme Court buy that argument?

ELVING: Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, said agencies have to rely only on explicit authorizations from Congress if they want to make a rule that could make major changes, what he called transformational changes, affecting the economy. The Congress has largely relied on EPA and its expertise to make tough calls on regulating greenhouse gases. The court wants to keep that judgment in the hands of elected representatives, whatever their level of knowledge or expertise. And the court says Congress is closer to the people and prepared to consider all the consequences.

Of course, the power of the fossil fuel industries has also been a factor in congressional action on emissions. Those industries and their supporters are major funders of congressional campaigns. So any effective action to slow climate change is less likely when it's dependent on Congress. But the larger implications of this ruling, as you say, are even broader. They cast doubt on the role of government in regulating business and industry on a range of health and safety issues.

BLOCK: Yeah. And this was just one of a number of really significant decisions the court has issued in just the past two weeks. How would you say that the six-member supermajority on the court has been able to change this country in such a short amount of time?

ELVING: There's been a buildup of some of these sensitive legal issues over time, and it's taken time also to assemble this supermajority, as you call it, on the court - decades, really - through three Republican presidencies. But now with the three Trump appointees in place, this long-standing agenda has met its moment just as these six justices have reached the zenith of their power. So we've seen abortion and guns and regulatory authority and separation of church and state all arriving at this point of decision in the past couple of weeks. And we've seen these justices being much more aggressive in stating and enforcing their ideology. Just on the numbers, there are databases that rank this the most conservative court in nearly a century. But it's hard to remember a courtroom in our lifetimes when the justices have leaned this far to the right on so many issues of importance the way they have in just this last month.

BLOCK: Yeah. And, Ron, following up on the reversal of Roe v. Wade, there is a lot of pressure on President Biden to take action to restore abortion rights. What could he do?

ELVING: A president can do very little, relatively speaking, with an executive order or an appeal to public opinion that would be on the scale of the right - the constitutional right - that was granted by Roe. Congress could try to do that. They could try to codify a right to abortion, but they would need to muster 60 votes to silence a filibuster in the Senate. And they do not have 60 senators willing to do that. President Biden says he would favor suspending the filibuster rules in the Senate just for the purpose of passing a federal abortion guarantee. But it's far from clear that the filibuster could ever be sustained again after such an exception. And that means a lot of the senators are going to be wary of doing that.

BLOCK: It's also, Ron, just been four days since we heard White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testifying before the January 6 committee. She painted a really damning picture of former President Trump on the day of the riots.

ELVING: Yes. She made Trump sound more responsible for what happened that day than any other testimony to date. That's adding to the pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to indict the former president for his role in those events, an indictment that would be unprecedented in U.S. history and doubtless divisive for the country. We already know that Trump said to the crowd that they should get up there to the Capitol and do the right thing. And Hutchinson made clear that Trump knew the crowd he was sending to the Capitol included people who were armed and that Trump himself wanted to go to the Capitol, tried to go to the Capitol to be with them and to lead the way. The committee returns for more hearings after July 11.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Ron Elving.

Ron, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Melissa.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAY FARRAR'S "OPEN GROUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.