Public access radio that connects community members to one another and the world
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Join KDNK for the Chili & Cornbread Cookoff on Saturday, March 16th.

Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The man appointed to lead the prosecution of former President Donald Trump for interfering in the last election has made an extraordinary request.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah, special counsel Jack Smith wants the Supreme Court to fast-track the case in what looks like an effort to make sure that Trump will face a jury before the 2024 election.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the story, and she's with us now. Good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So, Carrie, I take it the reason this is a story is that it's pretty unusual for the Supreme Court to weigh in at this stage of a criminal case. What's the prosecution's argument for moving so quickly?

JOHNSON: Special counsel Jack Smith says this case is a matter of enormous public importance. He says the question is fundamental to democracy. Is a former president totally immune from criminal prosecution for acts committed when he was president? The Supreme Court has never answered that question. All we know is that presidents enjoy some immunity from civil lawsuits, and the Justice Department says sitting presidents can't be charged with wrongdoing. But here we are talking about a former president who's accused of plotting to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power that culminated in violence at the U.S. Capitol.

MARTIN: So the judge in this case in Washington, D.C., has already set a trial date in March of 2024. How does that factor into the special counsel's request?

JOHNSON: If the Supreme Court waits for a lower appeals court to act on this case before it hears this central dispute about presidential immunity, that D.C. trial is really in jeopardy. Trump and his lawyers want to postpone the case until after the November election, and the Supreme Court usually finishes its work by June. So by asking for a speedy process now, the prosecutors are trying to make sure the High Court resolves a key question before next summer, before the Republican National Convention and other big dates on the political calendar.

MARTIN: So what kind of precedent is there for the Supreme Court to move so fast?

JOHNSON: You know, the prosecutors say the Supreme Court moved this quickly back in 1974 when President Richard Nixon refused to turn over White House tapes in the Watergate investigation. Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, posted, the High Court had moved quickly in this way about 19 times since 2019. But former President Trump says this is a Hail Mary move from prosecutors. He said in a statement yesterday this case is politically motivated and a sham, and there is no reason to rush it. Four of nine justices need to agree to hear the case in order for the High Court to take it. Of course, Trump appointed three justices to the court, but they've been willing to rule against him on issues of substance. Either way, Trump's fate may be in the hands of the High Court now.

MARTIN: And the Supreme Court is also considering another issue related to the effort to overturn the last election. Would you tell us about that?

JOHNSON: Sure. Several people accused of taking part in the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, want the High Court to weigh in about the obstruction law they've been charged with breaking. It's an important issue because the Justice Department has used that same statute in hundreds of January 6 cases. And if the High Court finds prosecutors' overreach there, it could really take away a major tool for the Justice Department. Donald Trump faces that same charge in the D.C. case against him as well.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: A Texas mother experiencing serious complications in her pregnancy has left the state to get an abortion.

FADEL: Now, Kate Cox did file a lawsuit to try to get access to the procedure at home, after she learned her fetus had a genetic condition that is almost always fatal. The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that her circumstance did not meet the state's requirement to have an abortion.

MARTIN: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin is with us now in our studios to explain. Selena, good morning.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: All right. Just back up for just a second here. Tell us who is Kate Cox and tell us about her situation.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: OK, well, she is 31 years old. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two young kids, so she was pregnant for the third time. And about 20 weeks into her pregnancy, she learned that her fetus has trisomy 18. That's a serious genetic condition with very little chance of survival. So she's also gone to the ER multiple times with cramping and other symptoms. She reached out to the Center for Reproductive Rights, and they filed an emergency petition asking Texas courts to suspend all of the abortion ban's penalties against her, her husband and her doctor so she could receive an abortion in Texas. So first, a district court judge granted that request. Then the attorney general appealed it to the Texas Supreme Court, which just ruled in his favor. In the meantime, Cox's attorneys announced she had decided to travel to an undisclosed state to get the abortion. She was concerned that if she waited any longer, it could compromise her chance to have future children.

MARTIN: So what did the Texas Supreme Court say in its ruling?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: OK, so here is a twist. Even though the justices knew Kate Cox had decided to travel and no longer needed an abortion in Texas, the court didn't dismiss the case. It - instead, it issued a seven-page opinion that really dives into the details. It says Kate Cox did not appear to meet the definition in Texas law that would allow an abortion. Texas doctors can only legally provide abortions if a patient is, quote, "in danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function." They say her pregnancy is complicated, but it doesn't meet that definition. Also, the justices wrote that it really isn't up for the courts to decide this anyway because the responsibility rests with doctors. Here is Liz Sepper, a law professor at Texas Law in Austin.

LIZ SEPPER: The Texas Supreme Court is disclaiming all responsibility. We saw the attorney general, the Texas Medical Board and the state of Texas just throw up their hands and say, it's not our fault that abortion is banned when your life and health are at stake. And all we're seeing is the justices agree. It's not our fault. It's the doctors' fault.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She explains the law just - doesn't just require a physician to say, in my good faith judgment Kate Cox's pregnancy poses a danger. It's actually a higher standard of reasonable medical judgment.

SEPPER: The problem is that the reasonable medical judgment standard invites other doctors to second-guess and, more importantly, invites the state to second-guess the reasonableness of that medical judgment.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The stakes are extremely high for doctors in Texas. If they get it wrong and provide an abortion that another doctor or the state decides to challenge, they could face life in prison, a minimum of $100,000 in fines and the loss of their medical license.

MARTIN: So what does all this mean for the state of abortion rights in Texas? Are there more legal challenges to this medical exception?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yes. There are 20 patients suing in another case, women who face similar circumstances to Kate Cox. That case was argued before the Texas Supreme Court just a few weeks ago, and a decision is pending. But Liz Sepper told me she thinks this decision gives a preview of how that one might go.

SEPPER: What it looks like they're going to do is lay down the gauntlet. It is not the fault of judges when women die in these scenarios or lose their fertility. It is the fault of doctors.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She says she's not optimistic that the court will side with pregnant patients in that case, either.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Selena, thank you.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is back in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Putin must lose. The whole world is watching us.

FADEL: Nearly a year ago, he made a surprise trip to the U.S., where he was heralded in Congress as a hero, leading a brave fight against Russia's Vladimir Putin. The situation today is quite different.

MARTIN: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us now to tell us more about why it's quite different and how it's quite different. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So what is President Zelenskyy trying to achieve today?

LIASSON: What he's trying to do, really, is a last-ditch effort to get U.S. funding he says he needs for his country's fight against Vladimir Putin. You just heard him say that. I think today you'll hear Zelenskyy and President Biden both argue that if aid is not forthcoming, Putin may win. This is Zelenskyy's third trip to Washington since Putin invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, and that year, Congress approved more than $112 billion in aid for Ukraine. But that money is almost out, and a lot has changed since then, as you said. Zelenskyy is no longer the hero that he was last year. The Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russia has stalled. Public support here in the U.S. has fallen as the war has dragged on, and support among Republicans on Capitol Hill has fallen even faster.

MARTIN: So, you know, traditionally, the Republican Party has seen itself as strong on defense and national security. What happened with Ukraine to change that?

LIASSON: Well, some Republicans in Congress share the animus of their party's leader, former President Donald Trump. He doesn't like Ukraine at all. Remember, his first impeachment in 2019 was over pressure he put on Zelenskyy to give him information he could use against Joe Biden during the election campaign. And he's said many positive things about Vladimir Putin. But most Republicans say they want deep concessions on immigration policy in order to vote for this aid. And that includes pro-Ukrainian senators like Mitt Romney and Mitch McConnell. And border policy, immigration policy is where these negotiations have focused and where they have stalled.

MARTIN: Why has U.S. border policy become the bargaining chip in this funding battle? It seems unrelated to Ukraine.

LIASSON: It's completely unrelated to Ukraine. But the situation at the border is the top issue for Republican voters. Immigration policy is one of the most intractable issues in U.S. politics. It's something Democrats and Republicans engage on every couple of years and always fail to make headway on. This time around, Republican voters are very concerned about migration across the Southern U.S. border, and they've been joined by blue-state governors and mayors who also feel immigration is out of control because they're having a hard time grappling with large numbers of asylum-seekers who are being bused into their cities.

Now, Joe Biden says he's willing to discuss compromise. In the past, he has made compromises with Republicans to pass bipartisan bills on infrastructure and microchips and gun safety. But in this case, immigration is such a good issue for Republicans politically heading into 2024. They don't have a lot of incentives to make a deal. They can just attack Biden for being soft on immigration. So it's not clear what price Democrats could pay in terms of border policy to get a deal. And that puts Zelenskyy and Biden and Ukraine in a very, very tough spot.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: 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.

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