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The Supreme Court is again the focus of politics with its Trump immunity ruling

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Supreme Court is once again the focus of politics.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. Yesterday, in a 6-3 opinion along ideological lines, the high court ruled that former President Donald Trump has broad immunity from prosecution, all but ensuring that his trial will be delayed until after the November election if it happens at all. Last night at the White House, President Biden criticized the court's opinion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: For all practical purposes, today's decision almost certainly means that there are virtually no limits on what a president can do. This is a fundamentally new principle, and it's a dangerous precedent because the power of the office will no longer be constrained by the law, even including the Supreme Court of the United States.

MARTÍNEZ: The court's opinions on this case, and on abortion two years ago, will likely be front and center in the upcoming election.

MARTIN: So joining us now to talk about all this is NPR senior editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So how will the Supreme Court factor into this election?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, it's squarely in the center of it. You know, first, the timing of this decision comes about four months until Election Day. The court waiting as long as it did to address the immunity question - without any real urgency, it seemed - then release the opinion on the last day of the term and send it back to the lower court, means that there's no chance voters will have a verdict to consider in the January 6 case against former President Trump before the fall. The court had already become a lightning rod for the left. The Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe two years ago has fired up Democrats and hurt trust in the court. Biden, with his remarks last night, was yet another indication, really, that Democrats are, in many ways, running against the Supreme Court now.

But the court has really never been a top voting issue in presidential elections for Democrats, the way it has for Republicans before. It was a major focus for Republicans for more than 50 years. You could argue that their political work and activism meant that they were ready for the moment, when it came, to reshape the court. Let's see if the threat of giving Trump broad immunity for official acts - essentially, meaning he could use the powers of the office in whatever way he chooses - changes anything for the left, which has not been enthusiastic at all about voting for Biden.

MARTIN: Say more about how the Supreme Court's decisions in recent years has shaped the public's view of the court, which likes to see itself as above all this, as above politics.

MONTANARO: Sure. I mean, you know, they've been enormously consequential. You know, trust in the court has nosedived. Really, 6 in 10 disapprove of the way the court is handling its job. Our polling with Marist has found that two-thirds have little to no confidence in the court, but it's not just because of these controversial decisions. There have been ethics issues with the court's conservatives. There were calls for two of them to recuse themselves from this case because of their ties to the MAGA movement. They did not. There are really no checks on these justices, who have lifetime appointments. They look increasingly out of touch, that rules don't apply to them, and removed from society, which also is evidenced by how long it took them to make this decision. It comes in the middle of an election year, and the case applies directly to one of the candidates on the ballot. It's why we've seen two-thirds saying that they are in favor of term limits for these justices and three-quarters saying they're in favor of age limits.

MARTIN: So the stakes for the court and for the country are high with this election. Does the next president have some power in nominating the next justices?

MONTANARO: Sure. I mean, you have three justices over 70 years old - Clarence Thomas is 76, Samuel Alito is 74, Sonia Sotomayor is 70 - so the next president could potentially get another three nominees, and imagine if Trump wins and is able to appoint younger versions of Thomas and Alito, two conservatives. That could set Democrats back another 20 years at the court, and that's now already setting social policy, you know, for decades to come into the future.

MARTIN: That is NPR senior editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. 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.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.

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