In the space of ten days, the US Supreme Court has cut the political floor from under President Joe Biden.
He is now in freefall. Though as any parachutist will tell you, its not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop.
While he is in freefall, he still has some time to come up with something to try and pull off a dramatic escape – the type of thing Tom Cruise does in his action movies.
But time is finite, and he is inexorably heading towards a hard surface and a sudden stop.
An illustration of the political peril he is in: Joe Biden and the Democrat Party have decided that abortion is the issue to save them from an almighty drubbing in November's mid-term elections.
An issue that politicians normally run a mile from is now looking like the central organising principle for the Democrats. The Democrats hope it will mobilise their party base to vote in greater numbers; in particular they hope young voters – notorious for not voting – will actually turn out and vote.
Even if they don’t, party strategists hope that by taking a firm pro-choice stance they will be able to sweep in votes from suburban women – a key demographic in US elections, and one that has been a happy hunting ground for the Republican Party in recent times.
Some US media have even reported former President Donald Trump telling people privately that overturning Roe v Wade could spell trouble for Republicans with this important group of voters, because they broadly favour abortion rights and may be persuaded to go Democrat.
Back in 2016, during a televised Presidential campaign debate with Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump said he would appoint two, maybe three conservative justices to the Supreme Court.
As a result, he said, Roe v Wade will be overturned "automatically". It was a campaign promise he fulfilled and a prophesy that came to pass.
Power over abortion law has shifted from the federal level to the state level, where it resided prior to Roe v Wade. The result is a patchwork of different abortion laws – legal in some places, illegal in others.
Mr Trump’s Supreme Court appointments may well turn out to be his principle political legacy.
In the last fortnight, their impact has been seismic in three neuralgic spots in the US political landscape: guns, abortion and the environment.
And the court looks set to have further dramatic impact when it hears a clutch of new cases in the autumn, particularly in a case on the role of states in setting electoral laws.
It won’t have any impact on the midterm elections in November – but it might well do in the next Presidential election in 2024.
Academic research indicates this current Supreme Court session has produced the highest number of Conservative rulings since 1931, the high water mark of the past 100 years.
With its inbuilt Conservative majority, the Court has, in the eyes of many legal observers in the US, just started to use its muscles and back conservative legal opinions.
The Conservative judges have been in the majority in 81% of rulings, while the liberal judges have been on the majority side in 48% of cases. This is a new situation.
With long-standing political gridlock in Congress, getting major new laws passed, has been very difficult. There have been two alternative routes to getting things changed via Congress: one has been by executive orders to government agencies, the other has been to bring in legal changes state by state, for example some environmental regulations.
There was always a chance the Supreme Court could block moves like this, but in a court that was pretty evenly divided that was a chance worth taking by Presidents of either party.
The States route risked a patchwork of regulations (and non-regulation), but if it was seen as better to get something done than nothing at all done, then the state route was probably worth taking.
With the Environmental Protection Agency ruling, executive power has been clipped, and with the guns and abortion ruling, the Power of the States has been enhanced.
All of which makes the current inhabitant of the White House look weak – as does the prevailing issue of high inflation and the cost of living challenges it presents. Never mind that inflation is hitting all governments across the developed world: the buck stops at the President’ss desk, and he is getting blamed.
Gun control has been a long-standing passion of President Biden, but all he could squeeze out of the Congress in the wake of the Uvalde School massacre has been a modest change in buying rules for under 21 year olds – and much of the impact of the new law will depend on the individual states, and how they implement the powers they have been given.
The overturning of a century-old gun carry restriction in New York law means that even the individual states have to proceed carefully.
On Friday night New York’s state legislature brought in an amended version of its gun carry law, which it hopes will not fall foul of the Supreme Courts ruling.
But it is certain to face legal challenge sooner or later, given that the Supreme court has ruled that Americans have a right to carry a firearm outside their own homes, with only minimal – but as yet undefined – restrictions.
In the EPA ruling, the court said the US government cannot rely on old laws (dating from 1970, and amended in 1990) to deal with a new policy matter such as introducing regulations that seek to shift investment away from coal-fired power plants an into renewable energy sources.
It argued that Congress has to make explicit provision for such large-scale policy changes.
And that will be very had to do given the party divide and geographic circumstances of Representatives and Senators: those from coal and oil-producing states are uniquely vulnerable to pressure from those industries, even more so now with the inflation narrative of Vladimir Putin’s war driving costs being deployed to argue in favour of maximizing domestic production of fossil fuels, including by fracking and using coal in power stations.
Individual states can bring in their own rules, of course – California already has some of the most advanced environmental laws in the developed world.
But for a target-driven issue as big and all encompassing as combatting climate change, action at the federal level will probably yield the biggest return: a patchwork of states with differing, sometimes contradictory positions, will not.
The same argument is made in favour of agreeing a climate change package at EU level (such as last years climate change law), rather than leaving it up to individual states to try and co-ordinate among themselves.
Google to delete location history of visits to US abortion clinics
Biden warns women seeking abortions may be arrested
Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as first black woman on US Supreme Court
Indeed fear of the "patchwork of regulations" is often deployed as an argument in Brussels in favour of an EU law to regulate a newly emerging issue.
Shorn of one legal avenue to implement policy without explicit legal change, Joe Biden’s ambitious aims for combating climate change have suffered a serious setback.
And all the while on television, adverts from the oil and gas industry accuse him of endangering American prosperity, incentivising Republicans in general, and Democrats in coal and oil states, to block or impede new environmental legislation at a time when voters are complaining about petrol prices and falling living standards.
You can start to see why abortion looks like an attractive issue for the Democrats.
In all three of these big Supreme Court rulings – on guns, abortion and climate change – the role of the State legislatures has been greatly enhanced in the overall US constitutional setup.
Power has swung back to the state houses, and away from the federal government here in the DC "swamp".
Which makes now a very good time to be advancing political ties to the state houses and state legislators, in the way that the Irish American Legislative Caucus is doing.
Its an effort to cultivate new political ties between Leinster House and the US through its state-level politicians, mostly in the expectation that some of them will go onto serve in the Congress in Washington DC.
But now these Supreme Court rulings show the real value of having some people you can pick up the phone to in each of the Fifty States: there is a power shift under way, and that will likely change the nature of US politics across a whole range of issues.
Having a better understanding of the interplay between state and federal governments is becoming more important in the conduct of Irish foreign and economic policy.
Which brings us back to the next round of cases the Supreme Court will hear, and in particular a case on State electoral law – a case that could have big consequences for the way presidential elections are conducted.
At issue is the legality of State legislatures taking independent powers to set election rules that would not be subject to review by state courts.
Some believe the US Supreme court will have a chance to influence the outcome of federal elections – including the Presidential race – by upending nearly every facet of the American electoral process, allowing for the ultimate patchwork of rules on voting eligibility and the electoral district maps that so influence outcomes.
Some observers feel it could lead to widespread gerrymandering at state level – and even allow individual states to send their own choice of electors to the Electoral College for deciding US presidential elections.
In the nightmare scenario being painted by some commentators, the Trump backed candidates for state offices in November’s elections will be much more amenable to changing the electoral rules to suit Mr Trump or someone like him, and if the supreme court unpicks the legal protections against gerrymandering in the current laws, then another tight election in 2024 could see local officials and the US supreme court playing a much more prominent role in deciding the outcome of the election.
Of course, the US supreme court could just as easily find that local state courts do indeed have the right to review State electoral law and hear challenges, maintaining the status quo.
But such is the confluence between the newly powerful US Supreme Court, and the findings of the Committee on the Storming of Congress on 6 January that the level of paranoia is very high.
In particular the Committee’s contention that there was an attempt to subvert the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election that was played out initially at state level, before moving to focus on the role of the vice president in certifying the electoral college votes from the states on 6 January, with the riot at the Capitol merely the tip of an iceberg.
The January 6th Committee hearings have been giving Republican backers a lot of pause for thought – and much food for though some detect a shift away from Mr Trump from key backers, like Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News, Wall Street Journal and New York Post media have appeared to waver in their support for Trump, finding more space for critical commentary, and taking a less hostile approach to the Committee than previously.
Perhaps Mr Murdoch is just hedging his bets, perhaps he is looking to cut his losses on Donald Trump and back another candidate for 2024 – like Florida governor Ron De Santis, or former secretary of State Mike Pompeo, or perhaps even former vice president Mike Pence, who has come out of the January 6 Committee garlanded with praise from Democrats and those Republicans worried about the reputational hit to their party.
His strong pro-life credentials were further burnished by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade.
The current theory is that some of the key republican backers want Mr Trump to use this moment to announce he will not stand in the 2024 election: take the win from appointing three Supreme Court justices who have changed the course of politics in the US to a much more conservative direction. Thank you for your service Donald, now please concentrate on the golf, and let someone else consolidate the Conservative gains. There are plenty of contenders.
But just as the January 6th Committee holds within it the prospect of great reputational damage for the Republican party, it also carries the risk of Donald Trump himself facing prosecution.
In order to head that off, some believe he will announce soon that he is standing for the presidential nomination in 2024 – at least a year earlier than normal.
(Monday 4 July according to Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist). Certainly, indicting a candidate for President raises the bar for Attorney General Merrick Garland in his weighing of the evidence the January 6 committee is producing.
And if Donald Trump is facing pressure to not stand in 2024, the same is true of Joe Biden.
Some Democrats believe they need to skip a generation and find a new candidate to give the party a deep refresh, bringing it closer to the electoral mainstream.
Their logic is that if Joe Biden announces this year that he is not standing again, it gives the party two years to get a credible new candidate in place.
The risk is of a President with lame duck status for two years as well. But with the Supreme Court cutting the ground out from under him, and with only abortion to save the Democrats from electoral Armageddon in November, a lame duck scenario is pretty much baked in, so what’s to lose?
With so many moving parts in this picture, you can see why being in freefall is actually not the worst place for Joe Biden to be. At least in the short term.