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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Supreme Court is about to take up a case that centers on an obligation for states to be a good neighbor.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's an important environmental case that challenges a federal rule intended to limit ozone air pollution.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the case. She's here on the line to tell us more about it. Carrie, this federal rule, tell us more about it and what it was designed to do.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The Environmental Protection Agency issued this Good Neighbor rule last year. It's supposed to protect people that are subject to downwind pollution from emitters like coal plant smokestacks and natural gas pipelines, where chemicals can travel hundreds of miles across state lines. It's called the Good Neighbor rule because the federal government is stepping in here, since pollutants from some of these upwind states cause serious health problems for people in the downwind states and the downwind states can't meet air quality standards because of this pollution that comes from afar.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. All right. So what is the Supreme Court going to weigh today?

JOHNSON: Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, along with some companies and trade groups, want these justices to block the rule while they appeal. They say this rule is a disaster and a shell of itself, since it was meant to cover 23 states and right now covers only about half of them because of other court cases around the country. They say the rule imposes financial burdens on them and that it's unreasonable.

MARTÍNEZ: What does the EPA say?

JOHNSON: The EPA says the rule is working in many states already, and it's helping to limit ozone pollution. Vickie Patton is general counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund. Here's what she told me.

VICKIE PATTON: There are children, there are older adults, people who work outside in the summer and people who are afflicted by asthma who are at very, very serious risk. And this case is just about asking those upwind polluters to do their fair share.

JOHNSON: Patton says all those people could suffer if the court decides to block the rule for now. The EPA also says some of the biggest parts of this rule don't go into effect until 2026, so companies and states have a long time yet to prepare.

MARTÍNEZ: Carrie, you say that the justices are only considering whether to pause the rule, but they're holding oral arguments. So, I mean, how unusual is that?

JOHNSON: Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, told me it's really rare. Here's what he said.

STEVE VLADECK: It's only the third time since 1971 that the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on one of these procedural applications.

JOHNSON: He says the other two times involve vaccine mandates during the height of the COVID pandemic. So the way the court is handling its emergency docket, or shadow docket, is controversial. Vladeck says he's not sure why this Good Neighbor case is an emergency and why the justices did not let the case play out more in lower courts before grabbing the issue for themselves.

MARTÍNEZ: So what are the threshold issues that the justices are going to decide? And how quickly might they do it?

JOHNSON: The key here is standards for getting a pause in the case. Ohio and the other states need to show they're likely to win on the merits or the substance and that they're suffering serious or irreparable harm and that a pause in this rule is in the public interest. There's no clear timetable for the justices to rule here. This is on their emergency docket, but they waited several months to schedule argument in the case, so anything goes.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

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MARTÍNEZ: It's four days until polls close on Saturday in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary.

FADEL: Yeah. While former President Donald Trump appears headed to another victory, the state's former governor, Nikki Haley, remains defiant.

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NIKKI HALEY: I feel no need to kiss the ring. I have no fear of Trump's retribution. I'm not looking for anything from him.

MARTÍNEZ: Gavin Jackson with South Carolina Public Radio has been on the trail with Nikki Haley. He was in Greenville yesterday when she gave what her campaign called a State of the Race speech. Gavin, so what message was Nikki Haley trying to put out there?

GAVIN JACKSON, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, she doubled down on staying in this race, like we heard, even with these high odds against her. And she is staying in until, quote, "the last person votes." Her campaign knew that if they announced a big speech like this, pundits and others would assume she was going to drop out. She didn't. She did instead get a big piece of the news cycle. For example, Fox News carried that entire speech live.

So the message that she's not dropping out is the same as it's been since she lost to Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire and, if polls are any indication, will face another loss, this time in her home state. But she's fighting this to the political death because she can. She's got plenty of money on hand, according to new FEC filings, and her campaign said it raised $1.6 million in Texas last week alone during a fundraising and campaign swing in that Super Tuesday state. So as much as she says she's not gearing up for a future run should Trump lose to President Biden, as she predicts - which in that case, she can always begrudgingly say, I told you so - in the future, but not right now.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And one of the things we've heard from Nikki Haley, though - she has not held back on attacking Donald Trump. But is the method behind the messaging evolving?

JACKSON: Yeah, somewhat. She is sharpening that attack. You know, when people call for her to drop out, she used to say, we don't do coronations in this country. And on Tuesday, that line shifted to this.

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HALEY: People have a right to have their voices heard, and they deserve a real choice, not a Soviet-style election where there's only one candidate and he gets 99% of the vote.

JACKSON: So speaking of Russia, she continues to needle Trump on his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and call for him to speak out against the death of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whom she's called a hero. Again, drawing contrasts between her and Trump - where he's silent, she's outspoken on so many international fronts. Over the course of this entire campaign cycle, she's been able to flex that international experience from her time at the U.N. - which, you know, she was at the United Nations under Trump - to react clearly in real time to major world events, such as wars, invasions and now the death of Navalny.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the perception has been that she's holding on by her fingertips and that South Carolina is so pro-Trump that it's going to make Nikki Haley look bad. So what's the reality?

JACKSON: Yeah, that is very much the reality. But she's still drawing a lot of crowds, whether it's, you know, 50 or so folks in her hometown to hundreds and even thousands in bigger cities on her bus tour, which has been hitting all parts of the state over these past few days. So she's still seeing enough life here, and she's able to reach and attract a broad spectrum of voters who she says are key to the future of the Republican Party.

MARTÍNEZ: But how does she justify that she should stay in the race past this weekend?

JACKSON: Yeah, that's the thing. She's still got plenty of money, like I mentioned. The FEC filings for January came out showing her starting the month with about $14.5 million on hand. She spent nearly all of that, but replenished most of it and had $13 million on hand at the end of the month. So some of her top fundraisers are saying that we're not prepared to fold our tents and pray at the altar of Donald Trump. So those people are clearly not alone at this.

Her campaign is saying that she is the person, and that is kind of the reason to keep going. And to that point, they released her 11-stop schedule over seven Super Tuesday states, really reinforcing that if she gets blown out in her home state on Saturday, she's still going forward for as long as she can.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, that's Gavin Jackson with South Carolina Public Radio in Clemson, S.C. Gavin, thanks.

JACKSON: Thanks.

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MARTÍNEZ: A ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court gives fertilized eggs the same rights as children.

FADEL: The decision has repercussions for reproductive health throughout the state.

MARTÍNEZ: Reporter Melanie Peeples in Birmingham has been following the developments. Melanie, how did Alabama's highest court get at this decision?

MELANIE PEEPLES: Well, it's all about these three couples in Alabama who had frozen embryos stored at a facility in Mobile. Everything was going along fine until another patient somehow got access to the frozen embryos and destroyed them. So the three couples to whom the embryos belong then filed a lawsuit for wrongful death. Well, a lower court ruled they couldn't do that because they said the embryos weren't people. And the Alabama Supreme Court ruled, oh, yes, they are. The state Supreme Court went so far as to call them extrauterine children. And, of course, this ruling is causing a lot of concern and confusion for couples for whom in vitro fertilization is their best chance to get pregnant.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. How were Alabama's restrictions on abortion access applied in this case?

PEEPLES: Well, Alabama bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest. In fact, the state has gone so far as to arrest women who either miscarry or engage in risky behaviors that could cause damage to a fetus. You know, the belief that life begins at conception is paramount to the Alabama abortion law. Moreover, the chief justice in this ruling says destroying that life would, quote, "incur the wrath of a holy God."

And the ruling wasn't even close. The judges ruled 8-1 to create this class of extrauterine children. Other states have limited wrongful death statutes to apply only to fetuses 24 weeks old or more. That's around the time that most fetuses could be considered to be viable outside the womb.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so given these new restrictions, what are the options for fertility clinics?

PEEPLES: Not many. Right now, Alabama's medical association says they have grave concerns about the ruling, and some clinics are saying that they would have to shut down. You know, for IVF, or in vitro fertilization, fertility clinics in the U.S. prefer to harvest as many eggs as they can at a time from a woman in order to give them the best odds at pregnancy. And unless lawmakers act, that's a process that is not likely to continue in Alabama.

MARTÍNEZ: Melanie, any opportunity to, say, roll this back?

PEEPLES: You know, it's really up to Alabama lawmakers what happens next. The case is unlikely to be appealed to a higher court because it was a state Supreme Court ruling based on a state law. Now, critics have long urged the Legislature to spell out exactly who all falls under the state's wrongful death statute, and it's clear that the state Supreme Court says life begins at fertilization, and it doesn't matter whether that life is in a woman's uterus or in a freezer in a fertility clinic in Mobile. And should the state Legislature fail to define that, it could soon become a crime in Alabama to destroy frozen embryos, which could ultimately mean them being frozen forever because it's not clear yet if those frozen embryos could even be donated to other states or to science because, again, they have the same protection as children.

The irony here is that the very lawsuit filed by the three couples who were upset when their embryos were destroyed may end up making it way more difficult for Alabamians who are struggling to conceive naturally.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Melanie Peeples in Birmingham. Melanie, thanks.

PEEPLES: Thank you. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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.