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US Supreme Court agrees to hear Trump’s immunity claims

By Stew Davidson
|
February 29, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to address the question of whether former President Donald Trump is subject to criminal prosecution for actions taken in an attempt to contest his 2020 election defeat.

The court's decision on Wednesday sets the stage for a landmark case examining the boundaries of presidential immunity.

This decision pauses the federal criminal trial proceedings related to the Jan. 6 events, presenting a temporary setback for special counsel Jack Smith while preserving the possibility of bringing the case before a jury before the 2024 presidential election, as The Hill reported.

Trump had requested that the high court halt his trial, but then suggested a delay in examining his immunity claims until after exhausting appeals in lower court. The strategy could have significantly protracted the legal process, potentially allowing him a pathway back to the presidency and thereby nullifying the case against him before it could reach a jury.

Contrary to Trump's wishes and on the advice of Smith, the Supreme Court has opted to evaluate the immunity claims at this juncture, rejecting Smith's primary plea to remain uninvolved and allow the trial to proceed without delay.

A Timetable for Justice

The Supreme Court has set an accelerated timeline for the proceedings, scheduling oral arguments for Apr. 22. This rapid pace aims to facilitate a landmark ruling by the end of June or earlier, which could have significant implications for the legal challenges Trump faces.

Should the panel decide against Trump, it would pave the way for Smith to proceed with the prosecution, potentially scheduling the trial before the November election.

This is all in addition to Trump's initial criminal trial on hush money charges in New York, set to commence on Mar. 25. The immunity battle in the Supreme Court will unfold concurrently with this trial, potentially influencing the trajectories of Trump's three additional criminal cases.

The Battle Over Presidential Immunity

In Washington, D.C., Trump is confronting four federal felony charges alleging conspiracy to undermine the 2020 presidential election results.

He has pleaded not guilty and claimed immunity, arguments he has similarly employed in his defense against charges in Georgia and regarding classified documents.

This marks the first time the Supreme Court, including three justices appointed by Trump, will review any criminal cases filed against him since his indictment.

Trump expressed his views on the matter via Truth Social, emphasizing the critical importance of presidential immunity for the functioning and decision-making capabilities of the nation's leader.

He argued that the absence of such immunity could lead to presidents being unduly cautious or hindered by the threat of wrongful prosecution and retaliation after leaving office.

Legal and Political Implications

The Supreme Court now prepares to delve into Trump's claim of absolute presidential immunity from criminal prosecution -- a stance thus far rejected by both the trial judge and a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The D.C. Circuit's decision highlighted the untenability of placing former presidents beyond the reach of the law indefinitely.

The appeal, regardless of its outcome, has already granted Trump a tactical advantage by postponing his original Mar. 4 trial date.

In pursuit of a swift resolution, Smith has advocated for an expedited review of Trump's immunity claims, underlining the public's interest in a prompt and equitable resolution to a case of profound national significance.