Myths and misconceptions about the supreme court : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders When the biggest news stories happen all at once, it's easy to miss what each of them really means. Since Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death last week, there have been questions about who will replace her and what it means for the court. Sam talks to Slate's Mark Joseph Stern about the Supreme Court's history and what recent discussions get wrong. Then, Democrats and progressives brought in massive fundraising dollars in the days after Justice Ginsburg's death. Sam chats with Julie Bykowicz of the Wall Street Journal about what all that money means. Finally, Sam talks to Tina Vasquez of Prism about the forced sterilization of immigrants in a Georgia detention center, and why it's important to see the bigger picture.

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Supreme Court Misconceptions

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Supreme Court Misconceptions

Supreme Court Misconceptions

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SAM SANDERS, HOST:

Mark, hello. How are you?

MARK JOSEPH STERN: I am as good as I can be under the circumstances. Thank you.

SANDERS: I hear you. I hear you. You know, so the last time you came on the show, you also talked about the Supreme Court with us then. But if I recall correctly, you ended by telling me that the court and its justices are always so unpredictable and just to keep your eyes peeled 'cause who knows what could happen next? And you are, my friend, still correct.

STERN: (Laughter).

SANDERS: How's it feel to be right on that?

STERN: I suppose mortality is the most unpredictable justice of them all.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Oh, my goodness.

AUNT BETTY, BYLINE: Hey, y'all. This is Sam's Aunt Betty. This week, misconceptions versus reality - a closer look at the Supreme Court. All right, let's start the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Hey, y'all. From NPR, I'm Sam Sanders, and you are listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE.

You know, every week feels so full of news. But this last week, it felt like too much news coming way too quickly. And sometimes when all these headlines are coming at you that fast, we all can get some of these stories wrong. So this week on the show, we're going to slow down and talk about a few misconceptions from this last week or so of headlines. We're going to spend the entire episode breaking down a few big stories - RBG's death and the future of the Supreme Court, a record fundraising week for progressives and a scandal at an immigration detention center in Georgia.

We're going to start with the Supreme Court. Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last week. And now there are a lot of questions about who will replace her and who should get to make that choice and when.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: But with this entire conversation, there are also a lot of misconceptions surrounding the court - one, that it's actually supposed to be about politics, or that at some point in our history it was apolitical. Another misconception about SCOTUS that I myself had was that it was always made up of nine justices.

I talked with Mark Joseph Stern. He covers SCOTUS over at Slate. And he said that's just one of many things that we've kind of gotten wrong in our recent discussion of the court.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: So there has been some chatter - well, not just chatter - a lot of conversation that for the left to fix this, should Trump get a conservative justice confirmed, Dems in response, in their eyes, need to add one or more justices to the Supreme Court. Got to be real with you, man - I did not know until this week that it wasn't always nine and that you could just, like, add them if you want to.

STERN: Yeah, absolutely. So the Supreme Court originally had six justices. There is nothing in the Constitution that sets the number at nine. The Constitution doesn't set a number at all. And so Congress has kind of messed around with how many justices should be on the court. It has been as few as six, like I said, and as many as 10.

And the reason why there were 10 justices is actually politics. Basically, during the Civil War, there were way too many pro-slavery Southerners and Confederate sympathizers on the Supreme Court, and so Congress just went ahead and added a 10th seat so that Lincoln could appoint somebody loyal to the Union to dilute the votes of those Southerners. And it worked. I mean, like, court expansion does work.

After the Civil War ended, we all know, of course, Lincoln was assassinated. He was replaced with Andrew Johnson, who was a utterly racist buffoon. Guess what Congress did. It took seats off the Supreme Court. It subtracted three justices from the Supreme Court so that Andrew Johnson could not make any appointments.

Andrew Johnson leaves office. Ulysses S. Grant fills the White House. And guess what happens then. Congress adds those seats back. It brings the number back to nine, and it has stayed at nine ever since. OK, but it has not stayed at nine because the Constitution says so. It has stayed at nine because Congress has said so. And all Congress has to do to change that number is pass a law by majority vote signed by the president that says, we are adding seats. That's it. No one seriously doubts the constitutionality of that.

SANDERS: Wow. So we know that it's lawful for Democrats to expand the court should they have the numbers after the election. Is it popular? You know, FDR tried to expand the court when he was president, and Democratic and Republican lawmakers opposed it. The public hated this idea. What do we know about what Americans think about a potential expansion of the Supreme Court?

STERN: Yeah. So, I mean, it's obviously true that FDR tried and failed to expand the court and that it was super unpopular. And historians have debated the reason for that failure for a really long time.

I think the consensus is that one huge error FDR made was concealing his real goal. OK, he didn't come out and say, we need to add justices because the current court is destroying the New Deal and destroying all federal laws that help poor people. He pretended like the justices were too old and that they were basically senile and that he had to sort of save them from themselves by adding more. And it rested on some very stupid lies.

If we try to expand the court today - if Democrats come out and say we need to add seats - they've got to do it honestly, and they've got to explain squarely to the American people what the threat is and why they feel an obligation to counteract it.

I do not know how well that will pull. I can tell you right now that a sizable majority of Americans, including many Republicans and independents, do not think that Trump should be able to fill Justice Ginsburg's seat, right? So we already have a huge portion of the country saying the next president or whoever wins in November should fill this seat.

I think a lot of those people are going to be radicalized if Trump fills the seat anyway, and they're going to say, this is illegitimate. The Democrats need to do something as a kind of tit for tat just to restore some kind of balance on the court.

The preliminary polling on court packing shows that it is not yet in favor. It does not yet have the favor of a majority of Americans. Like, we just have to be honest. It is not yet the most popular idea in the country. But I think that the sentiment is changing every day. And I think it's moving very quickly toward court expansion.

SANDERS: Yeah. I'm not sure how to best word this question. It's perhaps a more philosophical rumination. But I find myself, as an allegedly, you know, stone-faced, hard-nosed journalist, when I'm thinking about the court and reading these stories, I am falling into this mythology that the court should be above politics and it is somehow more sacred than the rest of D.C. and that it is veneer (ph), it's extra special and, like, above the fray. And for whatever reason, that number, nine - nine justices - feels sacred as well.

Why do you think I feel this way? And do you think Americans still have this strange belief in the - what's the best word for it? - the sacred nature of the court?

STERN: (Laughter) Yeah. Americans by and large do seem to have that belief. And if you look at how the court was polling in its most recent term, a pretty big majority of Americans said they approved of the court and that they viewed it as basically above politics. I think there are a couple of reasons for that.

First, I think that the median justice for a long time has been kind of center-right and has generally given both sides enough victories to make them feel satisfied. So there's just been this kind of balance that for a casual observer makes the court feel fair-minded and nonpartisan.

I also think that there's just the trappings of the court - the big marble palace that they work in, the beautiful red...

SANDERS: The robes.

STERN: ...Velvet curtain, the robes that they go into the court...

SANDERS: Gowns - beautiful gowns.

STERN: They are wizards, right? These people are wizards.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

STERN: They are wizards among men. And they do a really good job presenting themselves as wizards who do not engage in partisan squabbling. And, you know, people laughed a lot about the notorious flush, right? We all heard a toilet flush when the Supreme Court...

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

STERN: ...Shifted to arguments over the phone. I don't think that John Roberts laughed at that at all. I think John Roberts probably saw that as a pretty serious threat (laughter) to the court's...

SANDERS: Yeah.

STERN: ...Public image because we are not supposed to think about the justices' bowel movements, OK? We are not even...

SANDERS: Also, no one snitched.

STERN: Right.

SANDERS: None of them snitched on the other ones. There's a loyalty among that band.

STERN: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And we - like, we are not even supposed to consider the possibility that the Supreme Court justices poop, OK? That is just...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

STERN: You know, I really do believe that when we turn on the TV and see senators screaming at each other, and then we tune into oral arguments and listen to fairly reasonable and dispassionate debates, we see a real difference. And we think, these senators are driven by politics, and these judges are driven by something else. They are doing something different from politics that we have decided to call law.

SANDERS: You know, but what I hear you saying in other parts of the interview is that the Supreme Court has kind of always been political.

STERN: Yes, absolutely, from the very start.

SANDERS: OK. OK. OK.

STERN: And, you know, I don't think that any fair-minded observer of the court can debate that. I think what we could say is that there are instances in which the Supreme Court has risen above politics - I'm thinking of the decision forcing Nixon to hand over the White House tapes, right? - where you do see justices shed their partisan allegiances. But I think that in super high-profile cases, that is the exception and not the norm.

And if you go back to pretty much the very beginning, a lot of these early Supreme Court cases involved petty partisan squabbles between presidents and Congress or members of the executive branch. And the Supreme Court kind of intervened and just decided that the outcome would be the one that they preferred not just as judges, but as partisans. And that is how the Supreme Court has functioned most of the time throughout American history. And we just aren't taught that in school because I think it makes a lot of people feel the sads (ph).

SANDERS: It makes me feel the sads (ph). I'm thinking about, like, "Schoolhouse Rock!" and it's just like...

STERN: Yeah (laughter).

SANDERS: This is not that. This is not that.

So if this plan to expand the court goes ahead, how does it not undermine whatever trust is left in this institution? How does it not just then become an all-out arms race where every time a chamber flips, they're trying to add or take away more justices?

STERN: Yeah. I mean, obviously, that is a real possibility. And I think we should be candid about it - that this could be the beginning of the end of the court as it stands today as this, you know, body full of wizards that basically sits as a super legislature and gets to decide what Congress and states can and cannot do.

But, you know, I think there is also a future in which the far-right loses its grasp on the Republican Party, the Republican Party becomes a genuinely multiracial coalition, it drops its extreme hostility to voting rights and democratic norms, and, perhaps, both sides come together and shake hands and say, OK, Republicans did this, Democrats did that, and now we're calling a truce. I do think that's possible.

SANDERS: LOL - you funny.

STERN: (Laughter) But I think the more likely outcome is delegitimization. And I think that we need to listen to really smart people like Jamelle Bouie, my former colleague now at The New York Times, who says that could be a good thing. There is a silver lining there because the Constitution arguably does not actually give the Supreme Court the power to do everything that it does, right? Like, it's pretty...

SANDERS: They took the power themselves. I remember Marbury v. Madison.

STERN: Exactly.

SANDERS: I remember that.

STERN: But a deeply partisan case, by the way. But, you know, in Marbury, the court said, OK, well, we've just decided that we have this power of judicial review, and so we're going to use it all the time, forever. And that is not necessarily spelled out in the Constitution.

And I think that what's happened, especially over the last few decades, is that as Congress becomes more gridlocked, as Congress loses its ability to do anything, the Supreme Court has stepped in, and it has really filled in the gaps, and it has made a lot of policy decisions for this country. And it has kind of taken the burden off of Congress to do a lot of lawmaking.

And so what people like Jamelle argue - and I think there is a lot of validity to this - is that if the court is delegitimized, it will return constitutional decision-making to the democratic branches, and that is a good thing. The people who are making these incredibly important decisions should be accountable to the people. They should be elected by the people. They should be part of a more transparent and representative body. They should not be wizards in robes. They should be politicians because that is really what the Constitution envisions. And it is just not the country that we're living in today.

SANDERS: This episode of Everything You Think You Know About SCOTUS Is Wrong...

STERN: (Laughter).

SANDERS: ...Brought to you by Mark Joseph Stern. Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

STERN: Always a pleasure. Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Thanks again to Mark Joseph Stern. He covers the Supreme Court for Slate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Coming up, we'll talk about all that money progressives raised after RBG died and see if it actually does anything at all. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: All right. By now, you have probably seen those staggering fundraising numbers in the aftermath of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. Democrats and progressives across the country - they gave more than $100 million in the days after RBG passed. And it all came through a site called ActBlue. It's like Venmo for the left.

JULIE BYKOWICZ: ActBlue is a payment processor that all Democratic candidates use.

SANDERS: That's Julie Bykowicz. She's a national political reporter for The Wall Street Journal. I talked with Julie about what all that money means and what it can actually do.

BYKOWICZ: That money went to a mix of all sorts of candidates up and down the ballot from Joe Biden all the way down to state and local officials running for office, and then all sorts of justice groups, Democratic groups all across the country.

SANDERS: But Julie told me there's one big misconception around all these donations - this assumption that all that money will do anything to change who actually replaces RBG.

BYKOWICZ: There's just not really strong evidence that any of this money will affect the immediate conversation about the replacement justice. And that is because money is an expression of anger the Democrats have, an expression of passion, but it doesn't change the fundamentals of the Supreme Court vacancy and the fact that Republicans control the Senate and are moving ahead to pick a replacement just in the next couple of weeks here.

SANDERS: Yeah. So there is a potential that all of this money being given - it, you know, might flip some seats in the Senate or help keep some Democrats safe this November. But besides that, there's something else that comes out of these fundraising bursts. A lot of political organizers or campaigns get a bunch of emails and addresses and phone numbers and debit card numbers, right?

BYKOWICZ: That's right. It's - in addition to the raw cash that something like this will provide, giving money also, in most cases, gives away personal information about yourself, and it makes it easier for groups that you support and groups that are aligned with groups that you support to contact you in the future. So that could be important when it comes to things like get out the vote as we get closer to Election Day.

SANDERS: OK. So then could a fundraising push like this one around RBG's death - does it also potentially bring in new voters? You know, these people give money for the first time because they're really distraught over the week's news. That in turn is used by organizers to push them to register. Will we see that?

BYKOWICZ: There is a lot of evidence that giving political donations makes you much more likely to vote in an election. And so - because if you're passionate enough to give money to a candidate, if you're passionate enough to give money to a cause, you're typically going to be passionate enough to be persuaded to go vote come election time. Act of voting really does make a difference in a way that giving a couple dollars doesn't necessarily.

SANDERS: Yeah. So I want to talk a little bigger-picture about what all this money can do and how that might be changing over time. From what I can recall from college as a wee baby poli sci major - hi, Dr. Andrade (ph) - the bulk of money raised by politicians and parties - it goes to TV ads. Is that still the case?

BYKOWICZ: It's still definitely the case that TV is king. It's one of the most expensive undertakings that any campaign will have, costs lots of money. And the reason that they're still so important and still so much of a tool for candidates and groups is that they reach the most number of people - people sitting down...

SANDERS: Still?

BYKOWICZ: ...Watching television. Yeah, it's true.

SANDERS: 'Cause I'm thinking about me. Like, I'm...

BYKOWICZ: (Laughter).

SANDERS: ...Netflix first. You know, I don't get commercials anymore.

BYKOWICZ: Yeah, that's true. It's changing. But if you think about it, you know, most voters still skew a little bit older. And most people who are still watching traditional television also skew a little bit older. So it's just the best way for the candidacy to connect with people who might go vote for them come election time.

SANDERS: Yeah. In terms of our national politics, I kind of have this feeling that money and having a lot of it is just not as predictive of a win anymore. I'm thinking about 2016. Hillary Clinton out-fundraised Donald Trump 2-to-1. He still won. Right now, Joe Biden is out-fundraising Donald Trump hand over fist, but the race is tightening up. Like, are we in a space now where we need to just stop believing at all that the one who has the most money always wins? I mean, that's never been the case, but is it - is that even more the case now?

BYKOWICZ: Well, it's interesting for me as a person who focuses on money in politics - and I have for almost a decade now - to admit this, but I think you're absolutely right. It is becoming less and less predictive. You know, no candidate out there wants to have less money than their opponent. But there are...

SANDERS: Yeah.

BYKOWICZ: ...All sorts of examples all across the country of candidates raising huge, kind of crazy amounts of money and then not winning. You know, think about Beto O'Rourke in the Texas Senate race. He set all sorts...

SANDERS: Yeah.

BYKOWICZ: ...Of records for online fundraising and didn't take that Senate seat. Lots of examples in the 2020 Democratic primary, including Bernie Sanders for the second time in a row raising huge amounts of money online but not necessarily translating that into electoral win. So certainly, money is important, but it isn't everything. And it's not something that you can look at and say, hey, this candidate has more money, so they're obviously going to win on Election Day.

SANDERS: So I want you to gut-check me on a thing that I've been feeling this past week with the death of RBG and all of the fundraising around her death and the court. I just feel like that is not the way our politics is supposed to be. You know, as soon as she died, her death became very political. And then the death of this Supreme Court justice led to a big infusion of more money into politics. And you could argue that there's already too much money in politics.

But then on top of that, we saw yet another instance of all of our politics becoming nationalized through this, you know, fundraising spree on the left. You saw people giving across state lines.

Seeing all of that and seeing this weird fundraising palooza with RBG's death, it seems like it's some bad trend lines for American politics, American government in the, like, "Schoolhouse Rock!" sense of the word - no?

BYKOWICZ: I see what you're saying. I think, you know, a couple things here. One...

SANDERS: OK.

BYKOWICZ: ...Again, it just goes back to people across the country wanting to take some sort of action.

SANDERS: Yeah.

BYKOWICZ: And the death of someone who is so well-known and so well-respected - even just a couple of years ago, it's hard to imagine that there would've been such an immediate call to action for money. But that has just - it's changed so much in the past three, four years. You know, you don't see as many people kind of feeling gross about it. People argue that the stakes are so high that they feel like they need to just move right along so quickly.

And I guess on your point that - you know, a sense that there's too much money in politics, just a reminder that our country has such a longer election cycle than most other countries. That's...

SANDERS: Yeah.

BYKOWICZ: ...Part of why it gets so expensive. And other countries look at us and think, wow, this is just seemingly like all - you're always raising money for elections.

SANDERS: Always.

BYKOWICZ: You're always in an election. So that's one thing. But I think that even across party lines, people would look at small donations as, yeah, there's too much money in politics, but if you're going to have too much money in politics, it's better to have it from small donors who feel like they're making a difference even by giving $3 or $4 than it is to have corporations through their political action committees and, you know, people who are able to write huge checks being the dominant players in politics. So, you know, it's a good thing. It's a good thing to have small donors taking a bigger role in money in politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Thanks again to Julie Bykowicz. She's a national political reporter at The Wall Street Journal. More misconceptions from this week in news coming up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: This month, a disturbing story came to light. A whistleblower who worked at an immigration detention center in Georgia came forward with some serious allegations. She claimed that a doctor charged with the care of migrant women was giving them questionable, if not unnecessary, sterilizations.

The outrage was immediate. And also immediate was an attempt to tie the story to a few other things - to link it to the Trump administration and its immigration policies, to link it to a long history of forced sterilization at the hands of the government, often of people from marginalized communities. And there was an attempt to paint the players in the story - the doctor, the whistleblower - in really clear, stark terms.

Tina Vasquez is a senior reporter at Prism. She has been covering this story, and she told me all those impulses we had to tie this story to a bunch of other things - well, maybe those impulses were wrong.

Every time I read about this story, I just say to myself, why would a doctor want to do this? Why would a doctor want to do this to women that don't need this procedure? What is the incentive for him? Is it financial? Is it - I mean, do we know yet what the motivations were for some of these procedures, these sterilizations?

TINA VASQUEZ: You know, it was really interesting to kind of see people's responses on social media. Like, I think the assumption was because it was so horrific that this was some sort of doctor that had personal feelings about, you know, whether immigrant women should be able to have children. I - my gut feeling is that it's not that. My gut feeling is that it's purely financial.

SANDERS: Really?

VASQUEZ: Yeah. I mean, I - you know, women I've spoken to, both detained and not detained, say that - you know, I think a direct quote from a woman was that he just sees people as money, you know, that - so the conditions that are kind of - that we're learning about in the detention center, which is that, you know, they were unnecessary operations - right? - unnecessary surgeries...

SANDERS: Yeah.

VASQUEZ: He would say you had fibroids or you had an ovarian cyst. I've spoken to women outside of the detention center who are former patients, and it was the exact same thing - you know, needless operation after needless operation for financial gain.

SANDERS: You know, you can't see this story and read up on this story and not really think about this long history of forced sterilizations performed on people from marginalized communities, often by some arm of the government. That stuff has a long history in this country. How much is this tied into that - and I guess if you could briefly let our listeners know how widespread that history is.

VASQUEZ: Yeah. I mean, I certainly see it as a part. When I first kind of reported this story and I named the doctor, I outlined what those reproductive injustices looked like. And it is, you know, framing that I will say that I kind of regret. I outlined reproductive injustices under the Trump administration. And I really - you know, I - a lot of horrific things have happened to immigrants as a result of the Trump administration, but this doctor operating in Georgia has nothing to do with Trump. There are wrongful death suits that go back to the '90s and allegations that span, you know, years and years. But I will say that, you know, reproductive injustice in particular is just kind of baked into the immigration system.

SANDERS: Wow.

VASQUEZ: Some of the things that I outlined where people like Scott Lloyd, who used to oversee the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees, you know, like, migrants who are minors under the age of 18 - and he took it all the way to the Supreme Court, blocked young women in ORR custody from accessing abortion care because he was Catholic and did not agree that women or people should be able to access abortion. And so even in instances of rape, he wouldn't allow them to access abortion care.

More broadly, I also think of, you know, how Puerto Rican women were tested on so that we could have access to the birth control pill. I mean, this is just what we have done.

SANDERS: Yeah. And talking with you about this story, it seems like a lot of the first narratives around this forced sterilization story are either incomplete or flawed - you know, this idea that the doctor was operating purely out of malice toward migrants when, in fact, it might have been money. This idea that the whistleblower was strictly an angel and the doctor was strictly a villain - that has been further complicated.

What is the lesson in all of that for just news consumers and Americans when there's headlines like these that lead us to certain narratives that actually might be a lot more complicated?

VASQUEZ: That's a really good, hard question. I mean, what I am learning to do as a reporter and what I hope that news consumers do is to learn that, you know, people have interests for coming forward. They have angles. They have reasons why they do. That has been a thing that I have really had to sit with as a reporter. Like, you know, I am increasingly (laughter) not quick to uplift someone as a hero.

You know, I've been an immigration reporter for a long time, but the past week or so was a very big reminder that when we're, like, consuming news about immigration, we really need to see who is being cited in those pieces and if those people are immigrants and if those people are impacted people because, you know, all of us are kind of scrambling to try to figure out what happened in this small town in Georgia, what happened at this detention center, but it's like women have been waiting for us to catch up and...

SANDERS: Yeah.

VASQUEZ: ...Figure this out.

SANDERS: Yeah.

VASQUEZ: So if you're, you know, consuming news and the most impacted people aren't featured or centered, I would question the news that you're reading and whether or not it's much more complicated than it seems.

SANDERS: Yeah. And I also think migrants have been used as political pawns on both sides of the aisle for a while.

VASQUEZ: Yeah.

SANDERS: And as soon as stories like these break, they become political, and they become tools for a lot of advocates to say, vote for this person or that person; give money to this or to that. And there's not that further unpacking of what's really going on and what these women really need.

VASQUEZ: Yeah.

SANDERS: And I think this is a moment for people to question why they glom on to these stories and how and whether it is for their ends or for the needs of the people actually being hurt.

VASQUEZ: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. This week has just been so complicated, you know, because you have a lot of people assuming - and I may have contributed to that, regretfully - that this is a Trumpian thing, right? - that these hysterectomies, that these forced sterilizations are directly related to the Trump administration. I don't think that's the case.

And then in that framing that the reporting that I did, like kind of outlined some of those reproductive injustices under the Trump administration, I have learned this week after doing interviews with women who were patients of this doctor outside of detention that that framing made them reluctant to speak to me because they are women who live in rural Georgia who were very quick to tell me that they voted for Trump and they support Trump and that this has nothing to do with Trump. And my framing made them very reluctant to reach out.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, Tina, so much of the conversation of this last week has been about RBG and the Supreme Court and her replacement and what that means for Roe v. Wade and women's access to abortion. And it underscores this reality for the left that the main focus of women's health and reproductive rights - politically, it's abortion. But, you know, reproductive rights - it's so much more than that. It is also about choosing when or consenting to a hysterectomy, in the case of your reporting. It is about access to birth control or any number of things.

How does the nature of America's political focus help or hurt women like the ones that you're covering, who have very little agency and a different set of needs than perhaps the loudest voices in these debates over the rights of women?

VASQUEZ: Yeah. When the news emerged that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, I, you know, had a very strong reaction and had concerns, even as an American citizen with lots of privileges. But I did think about the women that I'd been covering, right? I report on abortion access a lot, especially across the South. And, you know, in the borderlands, you're essentially - Border Patrol gets to act like you're in a Constitution-free zone. And I spoke to abortion funders across the South and abortion providers and how sometimes the South can feel like a Roe-free zone. You know, Roe v. Wade is in effect. It's in place, but there are lots of pregnant people, especially in this area of the country, who cannot access abortion care or who experience insurmountable barriers.

I understand, you know, the focus and the importance of the Supreme Court, but I also know that the courts haven't protected everyone. I also know that court cases don't mean, you know, on the ground that people can access the care that they need. So it's all - we need it all, and it's all complicated. You know, we need to think through all of this and who has access to care, and it's not as simple as, you know, save the courts.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: That was Tina Vasquez. She is a senior reporter at Prism. When we spoke, Tina was still reporting this story out. You can read more of her work as it comes out at prismreports.org. Tina, thank you for all your thoughtful work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AUNT BETTY: Now it's time to end the show as we always do. Every week, listeners share the best thing that happened to them all week. We encourage folks to brag, and they do. Let's hear a few of those submissions.

ADRIANNE: Hey, Sam. It's Adrianne (ph) from Seattle, Wash. Best thing that happened to me this week was just now, I finished my first run in almost two weeks because of the smoke, and it's all because of this. I hope you can hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN FALLING)

ADRIANNE: That's right - real, certifiable rain. I'm completely drenched, but it was totally worth it.

EVA: Hello. My name is Eva (ph). I'm 73 years old. I live in Las Vegas, Nev. And the best thing that happened to me this past week is that I have been selected by a major pharmaceutical company to participate as a volunteer in COVID-19 vaccine trials - stage 3. When I heard the news, I was stoked. I am so happy to have been selected.

JASON SCHNUR: Hello, Sam. My name's Jason Schnur (ph) from Kansas City, and the best thing that happened to me this week is my family went on vacation on the East Coast, and I had to go do some business on the West Coast. And we missed each other. And when we both got home, indeed, we had.

JOHN: Hey, Sam. This is John (ph) from Durham, N.C. And the best part of my week is that the young girl that we've been fostering for the past four years we are finally the legal parents of. And it is just great to have her out of the foster system and for her to have permanency and for us to be a permanent family.

THERESA DAVIS: Hey, Sam. Theresa Davis (ph) from Cincinnati, Ohio. I'm a schoolteacher - high schoolers - and we've been in school since August 21. Yesterday, one of my sophomores dragged his father across the grocery store to come meet me. Usually, kids hide from teachers in public places. It is there in the produce section I got to tell a father how fabulous his kid is and watch him tear up. It was the best Friday ever. Thanks for all you do, Sam. Time with you is always sacred.

EVA: Thank you.

ADRIANNE: I love the show. Keep it up. Thanks.

SANDERS: Wow. Life can be really good, and the small things can be really big. Hurray for all that good news for parents and teachers and family, missing family and running in the rain. Thanks so much to all those listeners you heard right now - Theresa, John, Jason, Eva - best of luck with that vaccine trial, and thank you for doing it, Eva - and Adrianne. Thank you.

Listeners, you can be a part of this segment. Just record the sound of your voice sharing the best part of your week on your phone and send that voice memo to me at samsanders@npr.org. Just email it to samsanders@npr.org.

All right, this week, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by Jinae West, Anjuli Sastry and Andrea Gutierrez. Our intern is Star McCown. Our fearless editor is Jordana Hochman. Our director of programming is Steve Nelson. Our big boss is NPR's senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann.

Listeners, till next time, stay safe. I'm Sam Sanders. We'll talk soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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