Nina Totenberg

For nearly a half-century, abortion has been a constitutional right in the United States. But this week, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a Mississippi case that directly challenges Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions.

Those rulings consistently declared that a woman has a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy in the first two trimesters of pregnancy when a fetus is unable to survive outside the womb. But with that abortion right now in doubt, it's worth looking back at its history.

The U.S. Supreme Court returned to the subject of religious rights Tuesday, but this time the court considered whether death row inmates are entitled to have a spiritual adviser in the execution chamber and whether the religious adviser should be permitted to pray for and touch the condemned.

The subject of spiritual advisors in the death chamber has, at times, divided the court's conservative supermajority and it has also at times embarrassed the court, as minority religious advisers have sometimes been excluded from the death chamber.

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case involving an FBI undercover operation at a mosque in California. Area Muslims are suing the FBI over a nearly year-long surveillance program that, at least publicly, yielded no results and proved a huge embarrassment to the bureau.

How it began

In hindsight, the covert operation unfolded like some sort of black comedy. As Ira Glass reported on This American Life back in 2012, "It is a cautionary tale, a case where we can watch everything go wrong."

Updated November 3, 2021 at 3:52 PM ET

At the U.S. Supreme Court, the conservative majority seemed ready Wednesday to broaden gun rights by striking down a New York law that limits the right to carry concealed handguns.

Some 80 million people live in states that, like New York, limit concealed carry.

Wednesday marks a showdown over guns at the legal O.K. Corral. The Supreme Court hears arguments in its first major gun case in more than a decade, and the new conservative supermajority seems poised to make gun regulation more difficult.

With school boards all over the country finding themselves at the center of controversy, the Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case testing whether an elected community college board can censure one of its members.

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Updated November 1, 2021 at 5:35 PM ET

The Supreme Court appeared inclined Monday to allow abortion providers to challenge a controversial Texas law that in effect bans all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, which is before most women know they are pregnant.

Updated November 1, 2021 at 1:08 PM ET

Abortion rights are front and center at the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, but not the way most people expected. The focus will not be on abortion rights, per se, but on the controversial Texas law designed to prevent court challenges.

Updated October 22, 2021 at 1:40 PM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to review a controversial Texas abortion law on Nov. 1 but refused to block the law while it examines the state's unusual enforcement scheme and whether the Department of Justice has the right to sue to block the law.

Updated October 13, 2021 at 4:16 PM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to lean toward reinstating the death sentence imposed on the Boston Marathon bomber, though the court's liberal justices were incredulous about the actions of the district court judge in the original trial.

This week, just days after the Boston Marathon took place for the first time since the pandemic began, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death for his role in the terrorist bombing of the race in 2013. The question in the case is not Tsarnaev's guilt. It is whether he was properly sentenced to death and whether he had a fair trial.

Updated October 6, 2021 at 3:13 PM ET

At the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, the justices sharply questioned the federal government's lawyer about the refusal to allow a Guantanamo Bay detainee to testify about his own torture at a so-called CIA black site in Poland.

The unexpectedly tense argument over torture in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack came in the case of Abu Zubaydah, a Guantanamo detainee who has never been charged with a crime, though he has been in U.S. custody for 20 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case testing the limits of public disclosure about the CIA's secret torture program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The central issue of the case concerns whether a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who has never been charged with a crime can subpoena testimony from the CIA contractors who supervised his torture.

Abu Zubaydah was the first prisoner held by the CIA to undergo extensive torture.

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GAIL CURLEY: The honorable, the chief justice and the associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.


For the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, Monday marks the first time nearly all of them will gather together in the courtroom since the lockdown a year and a half ago. But if some of the justices greet the new term with great anticipation for a new conservative legal era, others likely are facing the term with dread.

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Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito launched a litany of acerbic barbs at critics of the Supreme Court's so-called shadow docket on Thursday.

Noting that the term was coined in a 2015 law review article, Alito said that the term has been adopted by "journalists and some political figures" in order to convey the idea that "something sneaky and dangerous" is going on at the high court when it rules on emergency appeals seeking the court's intervention.

Updated September 20, 2021 at 8:02 PM ET

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Dec. 1 in a case from Mississippi that tests whether all state laws that ban pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional.


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has a warning to those who want to remake the court: Be careful what you wish for.

The Supreme Court's conservative majority tossed a legal bomb into the abortion debate late Wednesday night.

By a vote of 5-to-4, the court's most conservative members upheld, for now, a Texas law that, in effect, bans abortions after about six weeks. But almost as important as the result was how the court reached its decision — without full briefing and arguments before any court.

Updated September 2, 2021 at 12:20 PM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court late Wednesday night refused to block a Texas law that amounts to a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The vote was 5-4, with three Trump-appointed justices joining two other conservative justices. Dissenting were conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's three liberal justices.

Updated September 1, 2021 at 12:48 PM ET

Legislation banning abortions after about six weeks is now the law of the land in Texas, effectively ending Roe v. Wade protections in the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to partially lift a ban on evictions for renters in New York state, which was scheduled to expire at the end of the month.

In an unsigned order, with three dissents, the ruling justices agreed to pause parts of the eviction ban while a challenge works its way through the lower courts.

The battle is now joined at the U.S. Supreme Court. This week the state of Mississippi formally asked the high court to reverse its landmark 1973 abortion decision, Roe v. Wade, prompting abortion-rights defenders to say, in effect, "I told you so."

Despite a cautious approach to controversy for most of the Supreme Court term, statistics for the whole term tell a different story. By the numbers, the justices swerved to the right, even by the standards of the traditionally conservative Roberts court.

A picture of this rightward shift is captured by statistics compiled through NPR number crunching and the SCOTUSblog Stat Pack.

The court managed to escape being dragged into the 2020 election chaos

Despite the Trump campaign's best efforts, the Supreme Court--aided by some 50 rulings from the lower courts — left it to the vote counters, state officials, and the vote certification by Congress to determine the outcome. Chief Justice John Roberts and most, if not all, other members of the court likely were relieved not to be involved in the political imbroglio.

Updated July 1, 2021 at 4:53 PM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday sided with rich donors and their desire to remain anonymous against a state law aimed at policing the finances of charities and other nonprofits.

By a 6-3 vote along ideological lines, the court struck down California's law requiring nonprofits to file a list of their large donors with the state. The court said the law subjected donors to potential harassment, chilling their speech in violation of the 1st Amendment

Updated July 1, 2021 at 4:37 PM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday gutted most of what remains of the landmark Voting Rights Act. The court's decision, while leaving some protections involving redistricting in place, left close to a dead letter the law once hailed as the most effective civil rights legislation in the nation's history.

The 6-3 vote was along ideological lines, with Justice Samuel Alito writing the decision for the court's conservative majority, and the liberals in angry dissent.

Updated June 29, 2021 at 7:53 PM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to lift a ban on evictions for tenants who have failed to pay all or some rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

By a 5-4 vote, the court left in place the nationwide moratorium on evictions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Alabama Association of Realtors had challenged the moratorium.