Takeaways from Trump’s immunity claim at Supreme Court

Takeaways from Trump's immunity claim at Supreme Court
Takeaways from Trump's immunity claim at Supreme Court

Former President Donald Trump welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to hear his argument for immunity from federal charges he tried to steal the 2020 election, but legal experts feared a broad protection from prosecution after leaving office could turn presidents into dictators.

The high court’s decision to hear the case will delay his potential trial on charges he tried to steal the 2020 election. But experts say the ruling could still allow a verdict before election day.

The high court’s decision to hear the landmark case in April will delay the high-profile criminal trial for months. It’s unclear whether the delay will push the trial beyond the November election.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that the charges are politically motivated. If he returns to the White House, he could appoint an attorney general who would seek to dismiss any pending federal charges. Trump could also simply pardon himself, although his power to do so is debated.

Litman: Without even ruling on Trump's immunity claim, the Supreme Court  handed him a huge victory

Whatever the decision, the case could set new boundaries between the three branches of government by clarifying when former presidents can be tried in the courts under laws that Congress approved.

Here are the top takeaways from the high court’s decision to hear the case:

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How is Trump claiming immunity from prosecution?

Trump faces four criminal cases for charges of election interference in federal court and in Georgia state court, for federal charges of mishandling classified documents and for New York charges of falsifying business records to pay hush money.

In the federal cases, Trump has argued he is completely immune from prosecution because crimes were charged for actions he took as president.

His lawyer, John Sauer, argued at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that former presidents are only vulnerable to criminal charges after the House has impeached and the Senate convicted a president. Sauer said in response to a judge’s questions that a president could kill a political opponent and get away with it if the Senate didn’t convict him.

But the three-judge appeals panel ruled unanimously that former presidents are subject to laws that Congress approves and that courts judge.

“Former President Trump lacked any lawful discretionary authority to defy federal criminal law and he is answerable in court for his conduct,” the panel ruled.

Why did Trump welcome the Supreme Court taking case?

Trump welcomed the decision by arguing that without immunity, a president wouldn’t be able to function in the job because he would always be fearful about prosecution over contentious actions.

“Presidents will always be concerned, and even paralyzed, by the prospect of wrongful prosecution and retaliation after they leave office,” Trump said in a post on Truth Social. “This could actually lead to the extortion and blackmail of a President. The other side would say, ‘If you don’t do something, just the way we want it, we are going to go after you when you leave office, or perhaps even sooner.’”

But legal experts contend such an expansive view of immunity would leave presidents unaccountable. Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney, said “this isn’t a hard case” because providing a president immunity for trying to steal an election “has to be a loser.”

“If not, our claim to be a democracy is no longer viable,” Vance said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.


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