And now we turn to a political stalemate that seems to be turning into a crisis. We've been talking about the across-the-board cuts to the federal budget that seem more and more likely to go into effect this Friday because Congress and the White House have not agreed on a deficit reduction plan. It's being called sequestration.
Edward Blum isn't a lawyer, and he doesn't play one on TV.
But he has been the driving force behind two race-related cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this term, including one that justices will hear Wednesday that seeks to roll back a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The other, Fisher v. University of Texas, which challenges the use of race and ethnicity in public college and university admissions policies, was heard by the court in October and awaits its decision.
As Friday's deadline approaches, we're pointing to stories that should help everyone get ready for "the sequester" — the $85 billion worth of across-the-board cuts in federal spending that would begin to kick in that day if lawmakers don't strike some sort of deal before then. (We won't call them "must-reads" because we'd never want to tell anyone that they "must" read anything about this subject. Let's refer to them as "should-reads.")
Military communities are keeping a wary eye on the sequester debate in Washington, D.C. In Maine, employees of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard have already been dealing with budget cuts. Now they could face furlough days as well. The smaller payroll could send shock waves through the local economy.
The country has been debating gun regulations for months. Later this week, a Senate committee will start work on various proposals, including a background check on every gun sale and a ban on assault weapons.
But this debate over guns goes beyond disagreements about policy. Advocates on both sides quite literally disagree on the terms of the discussion — as in, the words they use to describe it.
Ask "gun control advocates" to describe what this debate is about, and they'll say "control" really isn't the word they prefer.
The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on Tuesday in a case that could throw a monkey wrench into the widespread use of DNA testing — a case that pits modern technology against notions of personal privacy.
Twenty-eight states and the federal government have enacted laws that provide for automatic DNA collection from people at the time of their arrest. The question is whether it is unconstitutional to do that without a warrant, for the sole purpose of checking the DNA against a national DNA crime scene database.
To understand what's happening with federal judge vacancies, consider this: The Senate voted Monday night to approve the nomination of Robert Bacharach to sit on the federal appeals court based in Denver.
Bacharach had won support from both Republican senators in his home state, and his nomination was approved unanimously. But he still waited more than 260 days for that vote.
If Congress fails to make a deal on government spending and taxation before Friday, federal cuts of more than 85 billion dollars will be enacted. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley discusses the politics of a potential deal and the options for avoiding sequestration.
The Supreme Court says it won't hear a case that would have let candidates solicit money from corporations. By doing so, the court is reaffirming one strict ban on corporate political money, three years ago after easing other limits in its controversial Citizens United ruling.