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Supreme Court Hears Trump’s ‘Historic’ Immunity Case With Ruling Expected In June

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court finally heard oral arguments in former President Donald Trump’s “historic” presidential immunity case on Thursday, with a ruling expected in June, according to the SCOTUS Blog.

The question before the justices revolves around whether Trump can face criminal charges for allegedly conspiring to overturn the 2020 election results. The court’s decision will not only impact Trump’s trial in Washington, D.C., presided over by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, which was initially set for March 4 but is currently on hold, but also the potential progress of his trials in Florida and Georgia, the blog noted.

Last summer, Trump was indicted on four counts stemming from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the January 6, 2021, attacks on the U.S. Capitol. Trump, the indictment claims, created “widespread mistrust … through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud” and then was engaged in three criminal conspiracies to target “a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.”

Following Chutkan’s denial of Trump’s request to dismiss the charges against him in December, Special Counsel Jack Smith took the matter to the Supreme Court, seeking their opinion on Trump’s claim to immunity without waiting for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to rule on Trump’s appeal. However, the justices denied Smith’s request on December 22, SCOTUS Blog noted, adding a summary of Trump’s legal arguments:

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In his brief at the Supreme Court on the merits, Trump tells the justices that allowing the charges against him to go forward would pose “a mortal threat to the Presidency’s independence.” “The President cannot function,” Trump contends, “and the Presidency itself cannot retain its vital independence, if the President faces criminal prosecution for official acts once he leaves office,” because the threat of prosecution will hang over the president’s decision-making process. Trump cites a law review article by then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who before becoming a judge worked in the George W. Bush White House, arguing that “a President who is concerned about an ongoing criminal investigation is almost inevitably going to do a worse job as President.“ The same is true, Trump continues, “if that criminal investigation is waiting in the wings until he leaves office.”

Trump maintains that a president can never be prosecuted for his official acts. He points first to a “long history” of an absence of prosecutions, notwithstanding what he characterizes as “ample motive and opportunity” – everything from the appointment by John Quincy Adams of Henry Clay as secretary of state “after Clay delivered the 1824 election to him in the House” to President Joe Biden’s “mismanagement of the southern border.”

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Trump argues that a president cannot be prosecuted for official acts, citing a historical absence of prosecutions despite perceived motives and opportunities. He points to instances like John Quincy Adams appointing Henry Clay as secretary of state after Clay’s role in delivering the 1824 election to Adams, as well as President Biden’s handling of the southern border as examples.

Trump contends that immunity from criminal prosecution stems from both the Constitution and the principle of separation of powers. He highlights the executive vesting clause, which grants the president the “executive power,” asserting that courts cannot interfere with this authority due to the separation of powers principle.

Trump also leans on another provision of the Constitution, referred to as the impeachment judgment clause. This clause stipulates that someone who is impeached and convicted can still be indicted, tried, and punished “according to Law.”

“Finally, Trump urges the justices to reject another theory on which the court of appeals had relied – specifically, the idea that a president is not entitled to immunity from criminal prosecution if his conduct was purportedly motivated by a desire to stay in power illegally,” SCOTUS Blog noted.

“Not only has the Supreme Court made clear that there is no role for courts in reviewing a president’s official actions, but it has also held that the purpose or motive behind the alleged misconduct does not play a role when determining whether an official is immune,” the site added.

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