A Guide to the Supreme Court's Rightward Shift
Play • 1 hr 35 min

In the past few weeks alone, the Supreme Court has delivered a firestorm of conservative legal victories. States now have far less leeway to restrict gun permits. The right to abortion is no longer constitutionally protected. The Environmental Protection Agency has been kneecapped in its ability to regulate carbon emissions, and by extension, all executive branch agencies will see their power significantly diminished.

But to focus only on this particular Supreme Court term is to miss the bigger picture: In the past few decades, conservative court majorities have dragged this country’s laws to the right on almost every issue imaginable. Shelby County v. Holder gutted the Voting Rights Act and opened the door for states to pass restrictive voting laws. Rucho v. Common Cause limited the court’s ability to curb partisan gerrymandering. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission unleashed a torrent of campaign spending. Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 weakened unions. A whole slew of cases, including some decided on the shadow docket during the Covid-19 pandemic, undercut federal agencies’ power to help govern in an era of congressional gridlock. And that’s only a partial list.

Kate Shaw is a law professor at Cardozo School of Law, a co-host of the legal podcast Strict Scrutiny and a former clerk for Justice John Paul Stevens. In this episode, she walks me through the most significant Supreme Court cases over the past 20 years, from the court’s decision to hand George W. Bush the presidency in 2000, to the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, to the assertion of an individual’s right to bear arms.

Along the way, we discuss the right’s decades-long effort to transform American law from the bench, how Republican-appointed judges have consistently entrenched Republican political power, the interpretive bankruptcy of constitutional originalism, how the Warren Court radicalized the conservative legal movement, what might happen to decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges now that the court majority seems to be so comfortable throwing out precedent, what cases to watch in the Roberts Court’s next term, and more.


After Citizens United: How Outside Spending Shapes American Democracy” by Nour Abdul-Razzak, Carlo Prato and Stephane Wolton

The Most Important Study in the Abortion Debate” by Annie Lowrey

Book recommendations:

The Turnaway Study by Diana Greene Foster

Torn Apart by Dorothy Roberts

Who Decides? by Jeffrey S. Sutton

51 Imperfect Solutions by Jeffrey S. Sutton

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at ezrakleinshow@nytimes.com.

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris, Rollin Hu, Mary Marge Locker and Kate Sinclair; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Isaac Jones; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Our executive producer is Irene Noguchi. Special thanks to Kristin Lin, Kristina Samulewski, David A. Kaplan, Ian Millhiser, Aziz Rana and Kate Redburn.

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