Trump's Immunity Case Gets Underway Today

In one scenario, he could be handed 'a get-out-of-jail-free card'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 25, 2024 6:34 AM CDT
Trump's Immunity Case Gets Underway Today
The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, March 7, 2024.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Supreme Court justices will hear oral arguments Thursday about whether former presidents are immune from criminal prosecution in a case that "could affect both Donald Trump's legal and political fates," per the BBC. Trump's lawyers claim a 1982 court decision that decided presidents are immune from lawsuits brought by private citizens for actions related to the "outer perimeter" of their official duties also extends to criminal liability. They interpret the Constitution's impeachment clause—stating presidents who are impeached in the Senate "shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law"—as meaning former presidents can only face criminal prosecution after they've been impeached in the Senate, which Trump never was.

If the court buys Trump's argument, it could mean his election interference case in Georgia and his classified documents case in Florida are thrown out. As the BBC notes, Trump claims he declassified the documents found in his possession while he was still in office. However, Special Counsel Jack Smith points to the pardoning of Richard Nixon after he left office amid the Watergate scandal as proof that past presidents knew they could be subject to criminal charges. His office argues that if presidents are immune from criminal prosecution, they can violate any law without fear of conviction, so long as they avoid impeachment in the Senate, or resign before that can happen—a dangerous scenario.

Basically, "a president who is angry about having to leave office after losing an election could nuke an American city at 11:59am on Jan. 20, right before his successor takes over, and be immune from criminal prosecution," per Politico. SCOTUS, which could take months to issue a ruling, has a number of options. "Warning signs" suggest the court might come up with a new standard for determining whether certain presidential actions carry criminal immunity and send it to a lower court for review, a process that could extend beyond Election Day, per Politico. Even if SCOTUS rules against Trump, it could delay so long "as to preclude his prosecution before Election Day," per CNN. "And if he wins reelection, it will have been as good as a get-out-of-jail-free card," per Politico. (More US Supreme Court stories.)

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