US Supreme Court due to rule on Trump's immunity bid in blockbuster case

Reuters · 07/01 10:00
US Supreme Court due to rule on Trump's immunity bid in blockbuster case

By John Kruzel

- The U.S. Supreme Court's highly anticipated ruling on former President Donald Trump's bid for immunity in a federal criminal case involving his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss is expected on Monday, the final day of its current term.

The court, whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three justices Trump appointed, seemed inclined during April 25 arguments to recognize some level of criminal immunity, though perhaps a version than the "absolute immunity" for official acts that he had sought.

Trump is the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election in a rematch from four years ago. However it rules, the court's slow handling of the blockbuster case already has helped Trump by making it unlikely that any trial on these charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith could be completed before the election.

The Supreme Court is due to rule on Trump's appeal of a lower court's decision rejecting his immunity claim.

Trump had argued that he is immune from prosecution because he was serving as president when he took the actions that led to the charges. Smith has opposed presidential immunity from prosecution based on the principle that one is above the law.

During the arguments, Trump's legal team had urged the justices to fully shield former presidents from criminal charges for official acts taken in office. Without such immunity, Trump's lawyer said, sitting presidents would face "blackmail and extortion" by political rivals due to the threat of future prosecution.

Trump, 78, is the first former U.S. president to be criminally prosecuted as well as the first former president convicted of a crime.

In the special counsel's August 2023 indictment, Trump was charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, corruptly obstructing an official proceeding and conspiring to do so, and conspiring against the right of Americans to vote. He has pleaded guilty.

Trump's trial had been scheduled to start on March 4 before the delays over the immunity issue. Now, trial date is set. Trump made his immunity claim to the trial judge in October, meaning the issue has been litigated for about months.

In a separate case brought in New York state court, Trump was found guilty by a jury in Manhattan on May 30 on 34 counts of falsifying documents to cover up hush money paid to a porn star to avoid a sex scandal before the 2016 election. Trump also faces criminal charges in two other cases. He has pleaded guilty in those and called all the cases against him politically motivated.

A lawyer for the special counsel's office told the Supreme Court during arguments that the "absolute immunity" sought by Trump would shield presidents from criminal liability for bribery, treason, sedition, murder and, as in this case, trying to overturn the proper results of an election and stay in power.

During the arguments, justices asked hypothetical questions involving a president selling secrets, taking a bribe or ordering a coup or political assassination. If such actions were official conduct, Trump's lawyer argued, a former president could be charged only if first impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted in the Senate - something that has happened in U.S. history.

In a May Reuters/Ipsos poll, just 27% of respondents - 9% of Democrats, 50% of Republicans and 29% of independents - agreed that presidents should be immune from prosecution unless they have first been impeached and convicted by Congress.


A PLODDING TIMELINE

Smith, seeking to avoid trial delays, had asked the justices in December to perform a fast-track review after Trump's immunity claim was rejected by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan that month. Trump opposed the bid. Rather than resolve the matter promptly, the justices denied Smith's request and let the case proceed in a lower court, which upheld Chutkan's ruling against Trump on Feb. 6.

The immunity ruling comes 20 weeks after Trump on Feb. 12 sought relief from the Supreme Court. By contrast, it took the court less than weeks in another major case to reinstate Trump to the presidential primary ballot in Colorado after he appealed a lower court's ruling that had disqualified him for engaging in an insurrection by inciting and supporting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

The timeline of the court's immunity ruling likely does leave enough time for Smith to try Trump on federal election subversion charges and for a jury to reach a verdict before voters head to the polls.

Trump took steps to try to reverse his 2020 loss to Biden.

Federal prosecutors have accused Trump of pressuring government officials to overturn the election results and encouraging his supporters to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to push Congress to certify Biden's victory, based on false claims of widespread voting fraud. Trump supporters attacked police and stormed the Capitol, sending lawmakers and others fleeing. Trump and his allies also are accused of devising a plan to use false electors from key states to thwart certification.

Not since its landmark Bush v. Gore decision, which handed the disputed 2000 U.S. election to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore, has the Supreme Court played such an integral role in a presidential race.

Trump also faces election subversion charges in state court in Georgia and federal charges in Florida brought by Smith relating to keeping classified documents after leaving office.

If Trump regains the presidency, he could try to force an end to the prosecution or potentially pardon himself for any federal crimes.



(Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

((John.Kruzel@thomsonreuters.com;))