As The Supreme Court Ends Its Term, The Christian Nationalist Right Keeps Winning : The NPR Politics Podcast The Supreme Court ends its term and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson takes the bench. And how does the Christian right keep securing political wins even as the share of like-minded Americans dwindles?

This episode: White House correspondent Scott Detrow, legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, political reporter Ashley Lopez, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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As The Supreme Court Ends Its Term, The Christian Nationalist Right Keeps Winning

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MATT: Hi. This is Matt (ph), a social studies teacher in Hyde Park, N.Y. I'm getting ready for the final day of my first year of teaching. This podcast was recorded at...

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Good field trip opportunities for social studies teachers in Hyde Park, N.Y. It is 10:06 Eastern on Friday, July 1. Happy Canada Day to White House editor Roberta Rampton.

MATT: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. For me, I'm looking forward to seeing my wife as we celebrate our five-year anniversary today...

DETROW: Aw, congratulations.

MATT: ...And spending time with our baby daughter, who was born during this wild and wonderful year. OK. Here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: And to be clear, Roberta Rampton doesn't work at the White House. She's ours. She's our editor.

DETROW: She is our editor. She edits our pieces and makes them much better and sends funny YouTube videos about Canada Day in our Slack channels.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

TOTENBERG: I'm Nina Totenberg, and I cover the Supreme Court.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

DETROW: So, Nina, it's not June anymore, but this was quite the June for you and for the Supreme Court and for the country - a lot to talk about, about the Supreme Court term that just wrapped up. But let's start with one thing that happened yesterday. We officially got a new Supreme Court justice.

TOTENBERG: Yes. Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in, in a private ceremony with the chief justice administering the constitutional oath and her former boss, Justice Breyer, whom she is succeeding, administering the judicial oath. And, you know, it's really interesting to wonder what's going on in Ketanji Brown Jackson's head right now.

DETROW: Yeah.

TOTENBERG: You know, she's got two or three decades in front of her on this court, but she's going to be in the minority. She knows that. She's coming into a court that has been roiled by ideology, by personalities, and she knows that, too. And most of all, she knows that she's becoming part of an institution that has - well, shall we say - lost its shine. And I think that worries her.

DETROW: Yeah. And there's a lot of follow-ups on all of those major themes. The one thing that I've been thinking a lot about, Domenico, is that this is kind of a symbolic moment for the Biden White House and the Democratic Party as a whole to me, where this important landmark is reached. She's the first Black woman on the Supreme Court - right? - but she comes in and takes her seat at a moment where her vote will not change the dynamics of the court and where she will not be able to affect these massive power shifts that the Republican justices had begun to put in place.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, look; things in politics can change pretty quickly, but things at the Supreme Court don't change quite as fast. And no matter who's president, you know, in 2024, -25 and beyond, for quite some time, this conservative majority is going to be here, creating the tone for social policy, you know, throughout the country for some time. And I think you're right. You know, the fact that you have a historic pick at the Supreme Court is symbolic of kind of the direction that the Democratic Party is going and the White House. And at the same time, you have this conservative supermajority in the opposite direction. And it is interesting how that sort of strained the fabric here of it.

DETROW: Yeah.

TOTENBERG: One of the things that's so interesting about the American form of government is that presidents who have been elected in modern times, they have to live with the Supreme Court that was appointed by their predecessors. And that can be very uncomfortable. Ronald Reagan, you know, was frustrated in his attempts to do away with a lot of regulatory law that had been established by previous courts. Now President Biden, more than any president in recent history, or certainly since I've covered the court - which, I regret to say, is now, like, close to a half-century - no president has been in this position. This moment is the fulfillment of the right, some would say the extreme right, and their plans to, essentially, get done what they couldn't get done in Congress by taking possession of the Supreme Court. And they've - there's now a supermajority on that court. And presidents, Democratic and Republican, are going to have to live with it for some time to come.

MONTANARO: Well, you shouldn't regret the 50 years covering the court. It just means you know a lot of stuff...

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: That's true (laughter).

MONTANARO: ...That other people don't. So that's OK. The fact is, though, you're right. I mean, what I think is funny is that people, you know, see what's happening in this moment. And instead of understanding sometimes in some corners why this took place or where it came from, you know, they take out a lot of their frustration on President Biden, himself. And, you know, you can't kind of blame him for sitting there going, what did I do?

(LAUGHTER)

MONTANARO: And there's not a lot that he can do, by the way, to reverse a lot of what the court is doing because it is the final say in a lot of respects.

DETROW: Nina, Bill Clinton's influence on the court, as you were saying, ended yesterday, 21 years after he left office with Justice Breyer retiring. You know, Breyer had - we talked about this when he announced that he was retiring. He was this champion of incrementalism and compromise and collaboration. And he leaves after a term that was very much the opposite of that with a series of enormous rulings that were the opposite of that. Anything stand out to you about Breyer's last day on the court, given those circumstances?

TOTENBERG: Well, you know, the last day where we saw him in any role was at the last oral argument in late April. And Chief Justice Roberts read a sort of tribute to him. And the interesting thing was not Breyer's reaction, it was the chief's. And he choked up. And believe me, John Roberts is not a choker-upper (ph) in public at all. He is, you know, a very buttoned-down guy. And I'm quite sure that the reason he choked up was that he had already seen what life without Breyer and without glue and without a middle was going to be like, and incrementalism was not something that he could shepherd through the way he and Breyer had managed to do before. And Breyer, I think, is quite sad right now, not just because he's leaving after 28 years on the court, but because he sees what's happening to the court.

DETROW: I mean, there are so many big questions about what happens next, what happens over the coming years here. Before we get into that, I do want to just hit on one case that we did not get a chance to get to when it came out because there was so much else to talk about. This was a religious freedom case where a high school football coach was praying in the middle of the football field after games. And the court ruled that he was allowed to do this, that there were no religious restrictions on this public school employee praying on the 50-yard line with his football team.

TOTENBERG: This was a case in which the coach basically was saying he had a right to pray on the 50-yard line after the game and to have his players and other players from the opposite team join him if they wanted to. And the school said, this will look like we're endorsing a particular religion. And the Supreme Court said, no, it doesn't; he has a private, personal right to pray, and that's all he was doing, was praying.

DETROW: How do the justices square the originalism that is such a big theme in their rulings with this increased reinterpretation of the First Amendment?

TOTENBERG: Well, they don't think they're reinterpreting it. They think the people who have been - who went before them for more than a half-century got it wrong. And they think that there has to be a far greater accommodation between church and state. And most of the things that previous courts would have said amounted to a violation of separation of church and state, they view as hostility to religion.

DETROW: What are both of your biggest questions about next term and the next few years, given everything that happened this year? I mean, you have these rulings, you have the unprecedented leak of a major, major ruling more than a month before it was issued. Nina, you had several reports this year about real, unprecedented turmoil behind the scenes and, because of that leak and other dynamics, the trust among the justices and the clerks just totally eroding.

TOTENBERG: I think that these folks don't like each other very much. They're not particularly accommodating of each other's views. It doesn't help that there is no center on the court. There is absolutely no center. The chief, if he were the fifth vote and this were a 5-4 court, he could be a little bit the center. But they don't need - the conservatives don't need his vote. The trouble is, the conservatives, themselves, I'm not sure like each other terribly much (laughter).

DETROW: Has that always been the case or has that become more magnified in recent years?

TOTENBERG: No, no. And you even heard Justice Thomas say just a month or two ago that this wasn't like when - the Rehnquist court, he said, rather pointedly...

DETROW: Felt like a subtweet.

TOTENBERG: ...When we all got along and it was lovely and we just really liked and respected each other. But those were different personalities, and there was a center on that court. The court could move right and left to adjust in certain areas, and that's not true on this court. It's just a question of whether it's going to be very conservative or extremely conservative in these hot-button issues.

And as for next term, you know, nothing is as big as abortion in America except maybe the way we elect our public officials. And the court has taken on a case that could dramatically change that and give state legislatures enormous power free from state courts and state constitutions even, when drawing, for example, congressional district lines.

DETROW: Yeah.

TOTENBERG: And we're going to have an affirmative action case, and we're going to have a gay rights case. And that's just the beginning. That's the opening chapter we know of so far.

DETROW: All right. Well, Nina, I hope you have nice July vacation plans.

TOTENBERG: I have August vacation plans. I have to write about what just happened (laughter).

DETROW: Yes, that's true. All right. Well, Nina Totenberg, thanks as always for joining us on the podcast.

TOTENBERG: I love being on the podcast.

DETROW: And we love having you. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we will talk about how in the court and elsewhere the Christian right is getting major wins right now at a point where their views are increasingly in the minority.

And now we are back with Ashley Lopez. Hey, Ashley.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Hey there.

DETROW: So I want to talk about a big story that you just put together for us. And that is, you know, just taking a step back and looking at the fact that the Christian right - you know, evangelical, conservative Christians - are stacking up win after win after win right now - first and foremost, the overturn of Roe v. Wade, which so many of them have fought for for decades. And that's coming at a time, as you reported, when they're actually a smaller and smaller chunk of the country and when a lot of these cultural issues come up, the majority of the country is opposed to their views. I mean, it's a real tension point right now. What did you find?

LOPEZ: Right now what I think is interesting is their influence is sort of outsizing their actual buy-in from the public. Like, the American people disagree with them on pretty pivotal issues like abortion rights and LGBTQ rights. And yet, you know, the Christian right is winning, at least at the Supreme Court and in state legislatures throughout the South and in the Midwest in some cases - you know, mostly Republican-led states. You know, they're stacking up some pretty significant wins. Like, the reversal of Roe v. Wade is just one, really big, salient example of that. But this has been going on for, you know, a while.

DETROW: Who did you talk to for this story? And what were your main takeaways?

LOPEZ: You know, it was actually pretty incredibly easy to find a lot of Christians who have problems with the idea of Christian nationalism - right? - like, having American laws rooted in Christian theology and the Bible. And, you know, I did also talk to someone from the Faith and Freedom Coalition, so someone who does want to see U.S. policy at least not outright reject a Christian worldview. But, in general, you know, there is definitely a tension in faith communities about how influential Christianity should be.

DETROW: By and large, were people feeling emboldened or defensive or a mix of both because, I mean, I think it's such a contrast right now on one hand - at the Supreme Court, within the Republican Party and state legislatures? You know, this kind of movement is seeing so many gains. And at the same time, the big picture across the country - there's a lot of, you know - like, you know, we just ended Pride Month, where it seems like every big corporation in America was competing with each other to show as much support for LGBTQ people as possible, you know? And that's an example of where the Christian right might feel, like, in the vast minority in America.

LOPEZ: Even within the conversations that I had, like, if you talked to folks who are pushing for a more Christian-based policy, they feel like they finally are getting heard. You know, for a long time - I heard - you know, from the Faith and Freedom Coalition, their executive director, Tim Head, told me that for a long time he felt like the Supreme Court just wasn't even interested in hearing from religious groups on matters, you know, related to U.S. policy. And then on the other side, you know, the - you know, people who think the public should have a bigger voice than these groups, they're really worried.

DETROW: Domenico, this is - even over the last 20 years, I feel like - we were talking about this is something that feels like it has ebbed and flowed multiple times, right?

MONTANARO: Oh, definitely. I mean, I think it's funny because in 2005, after former President Bush won reelection, there was all this talk, books being written about a permanent red majority in the country because of the rise of the Christian right or the power that the Christian right had. You know, at that time in 2004, they were about 23% of the electorate, according to exit polls - overwhelmingly went for former President Bush, almost 8 in 10 for him when we talk about white, evangelical Christians. And they're about the same now - 28% in 2020, about three-quarters went for former President Trump over President Biden. You know, but three years after Bush won reelection, President Obama wound up winning. And everyone said, well, what happened to the Christian right, you know?

But now, considering especially because of the power of the Supreme Court and the power that the Christian right has had in making sure that candidates to the court, nominees to the court, are vetted to be against abortion rights, that methodical process of planning those nominees and making sure they were in the ear of former President Trump and making sure former Vice President Pence was on the ticket to have that kind of influence, well, you see where a group that's only about a quarter to a third of the country can have an outsized influence.

DETROW: I mean, the thing, like, I've thought about a lot is the moment - you know, you're right. Obama wins two terms. The Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage. It feels like this kind of politics is on the losing side of so many issues. You know, in 2015, Governor Mike Pence signs that bill in Indiana into law that really was hostile to gay rights in a lot of different ways. He faced a massive backlash. He had to retreat. The bill was rewritten very quickly, and it seemed like that's just not a winning issue. And here we are after, among other things, Mike Pence helped put three people on the Supreme Court - you see state after state after state where bills that are even more extreme than that are being signed into law and are centerpieces of the conversation.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I think that we're definitely going state by state here now as this fight goes on for culture in America, not just abortion rights or gun rights, but we're talking about fundamental values of what it means to be an American. And that's going to be determined state by state, largely with this Supreme Court that's in place because you have very different values in a lot of places. I mean, Texans will say, don't californicate (ph) my Texas, right (laughter)? And then you have people who live in California and New York, you know, saying they would never want to be in a place like Alabama. I mean, this is where the fabric of the country, again, has been stretched. And you're having, you know, fiefdoms, essentially, in each of these states, where they are saying, this is what America means. And, you know, without a ton of swing voters in the country - an ever-shrinking number of people who are persuadable - you know, we're moving more and more, like we've said, toward base elections where partisanship reigns.

DETROW: And Ashley, it's important to point out that this isn't just kind of cultural wedge issues coming to the forefront again. You have seen a shift within the Republican Party where you have - you know, including nominees for governor in Pennsylvania and elsewhere this cycle - this kind of Christian nationalism central organizing argument that America should be a conservative Christian country, even if the majority of Americans disagree with many of those views and even if the Constitution of the country is explicitly clear about not being kind of a religiously centered government.

LOPEZ: I mean, just last week - well, this past weekend - after, you know, the reversal of Roe v. Wade ruling came down, Congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado went to her home state and told a group of churchgoers there that she doesn't even think there ever has been or should have been a separation of church and state in the country, and that the church should be playing a role in crafting legislation for all Americans. And so, I mean, this is, like, a kind of strain of thinking that is not hard to find in the Republican Party.

And, you know, I spoke to this, you know, gentleman, Tim Whitaker, who created that group, The New Evangelicals. And, you know, he says that, by and large, there's a strain of Christianity - and it's not everyone. And, you know, as I mentioned at the top - like, that is - this is a fight even within faith communities that just don't see room for other views besides their own.

TIM WHITAKER: White evangelicalism rejects pluralism completely, all right? They do not see themselves as coexisting with other religious views or other sexual ethic views. They see it as a spiritual battle, and they're on God's side.

LOPEZ: So it's really hard for a group like that that is trying to play a role in a democracy because there's a pretty hard line on some pretty big issues that already we know the general public doesn't agree with them on.

DETROW: And what's the next big central organizing issue now that Roe v. Wade is gone?

LOPEZ: I mean, we're already kind of seeing it when it comes to gay rights. I think LGBTQ issues are really big. You know, already, we're seeing states start to crack down on gay rights in a way that we haven't seen in a little while.

DETROW: Yeah. All right. We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we will end the week with Can't Let It Go.

We are back. It is Friday, at the end of a very long workweek for all of us, so a good time to end the show, like we do every Friday, with Can't Let It Go. It's the part of the show where we talk about things from the week we cannot stop thinking about - politics or otherwise.

Ashley, you are up first. What can you not let go of?

LOPEZ: OK, so a radio station in Vancouver, Canada - some of their morning hosts played Rage Against the Machine on Tuesday for a full day - like, well into Wednesday, apparently. And they would only play one song. It's "Killing In The Name," and it's kind of hilarious because, like, people were calling in and being like, for the love of God, please play this other song.

DETROW: (Laughter).

LOPEZ: And every single time, they would jump in and play the song again. Apparently, the morning hosts, I think, got laid off, and they were - this was, like, their goodbye to everyone. It was just to annoy all their listeners, which is energy I can really appreciate, to be honest.

DETROW: That's a good idea.

MONTANARO: So there was no real reason for it except for the guy leaving?

LOPEZ: Yeah, I guess they all got laid off, and this was, like, their goodbye...

MONTANARO: Oh.

LOPEZ: ...To the station and the listeners, which is just...

MONTANARO: Just play it on repeat and see if any of the bosses actually know how to work any of the equipment.

LOPEZ: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTANARO: You don't need us, we don't need you.

DETROW: Try and publish podcast feeds to that end if we get laid off (laughter).

All right. Domenico, what about you?

MONTANARO: I'm going to talk about what's become a national holiday, at least for Mets fans - something called Bobby Bonilla Day.

DETROW: Wait, is today Bobby Bonilla Day?

MONTANARO: Today is Bobby Bonilla Day. Every July 1...

DETROW: Happy Bobby Bonilla Day.

MONTANARO: Thank you very much. It is a funny, fun, dark tradition that is - you know, Mets fans know all about because Bobby Bonilla used to play for the Mets in the '90s. The Mets parted ways with him in the year 2000, and they still owed him some money on his contract. And the Mets were very confident in their new investment guru that they were going to be able to recoup all this money that they owed. They were just going to invest money with this guy, and they were going to get money back. Well, they owed Bobby Bonilla about 6 million bucks, and they were going to pay him back at an 8% loan. Well, it turned out their investment guru was none other than Bernie Madoff.

LOPEZ: Yikes.

MONTANARO: And the Mets, you know, lost a lot of money with him. And that investment wound up ballooning from, like, 6 million bucks to, like, almost $30 million (laughter), and...

DETROW: And it's an annual payment he gets every year for a very long time, right? Like, how much is it each July 1?

MONTANARO: Until 2035, he will get $1.19 million. He is 58 years old. He will be 72 when that last payment is made. So, you know, good on him. You know, he tried to restructure that contract actually to help the team. And, you know, he's getting his, and I'm fine with it.

LOPEZ: Man, when all the stars align...

DETROW: (Laughter).

LOPEZ: ...They pay off.

MONTANARO: And now, I'll also just say, the Mets' new owner is perfectly happy with this. He actually wants to make a big spectacle of it, potentially giving out a big Publisher's Clearing House-like check every July 1.

LOPEZ: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: I think he could monetize this. And I also think it's a good time to remind people that Max Scherzer now plays for the Mets, who used to play for the Washington baseball team. And the Nationals are paying Max Scherzer to play for the Mets $15 million a year each July 1 from 2022 to 2028. So, you know, this million bucks a year to Bobby Bonilla is nothing to sneeze at. I think we need to be calling this Max Scherzer Day.

DETROW: Scherzer Bonilla Day.

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

DETROW: All right. Well, you know what I can't let go of?

MONTANARO: What's that, Scott?

DETROW: Well, let me tell you. Monday is July Fourth, Independence Day. This is our last podcast until Independence Day. And I - my proudest accomplishment in this podcast is creating our annual tradition of the dramatic reading of the speech from "Independence Day." I have not actually been part of it the last few years, so I'm excited to be back. Domenico, have you...

MONTANARO: I've never been part of it, so I'm, I guess, happy to participate in this very strange non-Morning Edition tradition.

DETROW: Yeah. Ashley, I don't know if you were aware of this, but welcome to this NPR POLITICS PODCAST tradition.

LOPEZ: (Laughter).

DETROW: And the context here is that every year, like, one of the nicest traditions that NPR does is every year on July Fourth on Morning Edition, they read the Declaration of Independence. So we decided we would read another, very important canonical Independence Day speech, which is, of course, the President's speech at the culmination of the movie. Domenico, you raised a good point that this might be mildly controversial this year in that it is a Will Smith movie.

MONTANARO: Yeah, well, we'll just forget that because we're reading the lines now.

DETROW: Will Smith is not in the scene. He is his way - he is otherwise occupied getting ready to go into space during this scene. So are we all ready? Do we have our parts?

LOPEZ: Wait, do I...

DETROW: Yeah?

LOPEZ: Am I taking part in this?

MONTANARO: You are, Ashley.

DETROW: You are taking part in this. You have an assigned part...

MONTANARO: You have words.

DETROW: ...In the script. It's in Slack.

LOPEZ: Where? Oh, it's on Slack?

DETROW: Yes.

LOPEZ: Where are my - OK.

DETROW: All right. It's been years. Let me shake it up. OK.

LOPEZ: (Laughter).

DETROW: Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. Mankind - that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.

LOPEZ: Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom - not from tyranny, oppression or persecution, but from annihilation. We're fighting for our right to live, to exist.

MONTANARO: And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday but as the day when the world declared in one voice, we will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We're going to live on. We're going to survive. Today, we celebrate our Independence Day.

DETROW: Folks, that was great. That was great, one of our best ones yet. Thank you.

LOPEZ: Yeah, definitely one of the weirder things I've ever done at work, but that was fun.

DETROW: You know?

(LAUGHTER)

MONTANARO: Funner things. Come on. Be inspired.

DETROW: I hope you both...

MONTANARO: I had chills, Scott. I had chills.

DETROW: You were really into it. You were great. I hope you both have a good...

MONTANARO: You got me pumped up.

DETROW: ...Holiday weekend. Maybe you can read that speech to your friends and family.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTANARO: Yeah.

DETROW: That is a wrap for today after a very long week. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Our editors are Eric McDaniel and Krishnadev Calamur. Our producers are Elena Moore, Casey Morell and Lexie Schapitl. Our intern is Maya Rosenberg. Thank you to Brandon Carter. Thank you to Bill Pullman for originally inspiring us.

I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

LOPEZ: I'm Ashley Lopez. I cover politics.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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