Supreme Court could limit Trump’s immunity, but may grant him a desired victory

    • Donald Trump appears unlikely to get the sweeping presidential immunity he wants.
    • But a majority of Supreme Court justices appear ready to hand the former president an immediate victory.
    • The justices appear likely to further delay a trial on Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

Donald Trump’s hopes of obtaining comprehensive immunity may not be fulfilled.

The Supreme Court justices seem unlikely to dismiss the former president’s claims hastily, indicating that Trump may not have to face trial for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election before November.

During the arguments on Thursday, the Justices emphasized the significant historical importance of the case at hand.

For Trump, the most immediate consequence is that the significant issues at stake are likely to result in a postponement of the criminal case against him until after he either wins or loses his next election.

Special counsel Jack Smith urged the justices to expeditiously address Trump’s claims and proceed with the trial, which was initially slated to commence last month.

During the oral arguments, it became clear that a majority of the justices preferred to send the case back to a lower court. Their intention was to determine which of Trump’s alleged acts in the indictment are directly connected to his official duties.

“I believe you’ve acknowledged, in response to other inquiries, that certain acts mentioned in the indictment are of a private nature, while others are deemed official,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh informed Sauer. “So, is it your stance that the determination of which acts fall under which category should be initially conducted by either the DC circuit or the District Court?”

US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan in DC could potentially be tasked with hearing and ruling on the case regarding the distinction between President Trump’s official and private actions, as Kavanaugh proposed.

A delay like this would make it nearly impossible for Smith to bring Trump to trial before the November election. If Trump were to defeat President Joe Biden, it’s easy to imagine how he would leverage his presidential authority to evade the case.

Smith is prosecuting Trump as the primary means for holding the former president accountable for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

John Sauer, Trump’s lawyer, made the case that a former president should have complete immunity for actions that are only loosely connected to the president’s actual duties. He based his arguments on a previous Supreme Court case that established the boundaries of presidential immunity in civil matters.

Justice Samuel Alito, among other conservative justices, showed particular understanding towards Sauer’s argument. Sauer emphasized the need for a highly stringent standard for courts or prosecutors to question a president’s performance in office when they face legal challenges.

Alito seemed to be the only justice who wasn’t fully convinced.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, although skeptical of some of Sauer’s other arguments, indicated that Smith’s team might need to make significant changes to the current indictment against Trump if they wish to proceed expeditiously with the case.

Barrett suggested that the special counsel might concentrate exclusively on actions performed by Trump outside of his official duties.

Michael Dreeben, the advocate for Smith’s team, appeared uncertain about agreeing to implement such a solution.

“We believe there is a comprehensive conspiracy at play, as stated in the indictment. The individuals involved collaborated with private lawyers to further their fraudulent objectives. Additionally, the petitioner abused their official powers in an attempt to increase the likelihood of their conspiracies succeeding,” Dreeben responded. “Our aim is to present the jury with a cohesive narrative that highlights the sequence and seriousness of the actions taken, providing them with a thorough understanding of why each step was taken.”

During the proceedings, Barrett and her fellow justices extensively questioned both Sauer and Dreeben, urging them to meticulously dissect and analyze each aspect of Trump’s conduct as described in the indictment.

The Supreme Court may decide that a lower court is better suited to conduct a more thorough review of Trump’s conduct.

In a thought-provoking move, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson urged her fellow justices to reconsider whether the case at hand is truly the ideal precedent for defining the boundaries of an “official act” for future presidents. Her plea raises the question of whether this specific case adequately represents the full scope of a president’s duties.

Jackson posed the question of whether this particular situation is the appropriate means to establish a test for distinguishing between core and non-core issues.

However, it appears that Jackson’s colleagues are unlikely to be open to this perspective, given the arguments presented on Thursday and recent events.

In June 2022, Chief Justice John Roberts reprimanded the court’s conservative justices for not confining their decision in Dobbs v. Jackson solely to the facts of the abortion rights case at hand. Justice Alito, leading a 5-4 majority, explicitly overturned Roe v. Wade. Concerns were raised by conservative justices regarding Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established a nationwide right to same-sex marriage.

Throughout history, justices have often used more expansive language than what is strictly necessary to address the specific facts of the case at hand.

Conservative justices, including Alito and Kavanaugh, expressed their concerns regarding more than just Trump’s alleged conduct as stated in the indictment.

“I appreciate your understanding, but it is important to recognize that we are crafting a rule that will stand the test of time,” Justice Neil Gorsuch expressed to Dreeben during their conversation.

Waiting for such a rule would be beneficial for Trump.

Crafting a standard and determining how it applies to him would be a time-consuming process, allowing Trump to effectively evade federal prosecution for any offenses committed after the 2020 election.

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