Nina Totenberg

As a hurry-up execution schedule plays out in Arkansas this week, the U.S. Supreme Court and Arkansas Supreme Court have stepped in to block two of the eight executions initially scheduled for an 11-day period.

In a time of high drama over executions in Arkansas, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case that could determine the fate of two of the condemned men in the Razorback state, as well as others on death row elsewhere.

At issue is whether an indigent defendant whose sanity is a significant factor in his trial, is entitled to assistance from a mental health expert witness who is independent of the prosecutors.

A clear majority of justices at the U.S. Supreme Court seemed troubled Wednesday by a Missouri grant program that bars state money from going to religious schools for playground improvement.

Thirty-nine states have state constitutional provisions that bar taxpayer funds from going to religious schools — provisions that have been a major obstacle for the school choice movement. The Missouri case is an attempt to lower that wall separating church and state.

The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday in a Missouri case with the potential to open grant programs to parochial schools.

With a nasty and partisan confirmation battle behind him, Justice Neil Gorsuch took his seat on the nation's highest court on Monday and quickly proved himself to be an active, persistent questioner.

As the court buzzer sounded, Gorsuch emerged from behind the red velvet curtains with his eight colleagues and took his seat at the far right of the bench, no pun intended. (That's where the most junior justice sits, regardless of his or her politics.)

Updated at 2:47 p.m. ET

Judge Neil Gorsuch was confirmed Friday as the 113th justice to serve on the nation's highest court. The final vote was 54-45, mostly along party lines.

Senate Democrats on Monday secured the votes needed to filibuster Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. This sets up a political fight that will substantially change the way the Senate considers future high court nominees.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Political predictions are a dangerous business, especially this year. But it does look as though one way or another, the U.S. Senate will vote to confirm the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. The open question is how much damage Democrats will do to their own long game in the process.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For more now, we turn to NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Hey there, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi.

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