Navigating the labyrinth of legal challenges facing Donald Trump is no easy feat, especially considering the over 90 criminal charges hovering over the former president.
However, a recent ruling from the DC circuit court of appeals, a federal court just beneath the Supreme Court, stands out as a pivotal development for the year ahead. In a unanimous and comprehensive decision, a three-judge panel dismissed Trump’s claim of absolute immunity for actions undertaken during his presidency.
Trump’s audacious argument sought to extend the limited immunity traditionally granted to presidents for job-related actions to cover anything, including his hypothetical assertion during the 2016 campaign that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without consequences.
Had Trump’s weak argument succeeded, it would have led to the collapse of all criminal cases against him. However, the ruling paves the way for the commencement of the first case next month, pending Supreme Court intervention.
The Supreme Court finds itself at the epicenter of two simultaneous cases crucial to Trump’s potential third presidential run. Drawing parallels with the historic Bush v. Gore in 2000, these cases are even more fundamental.
Two states have deemed Trump ineligible for the presidency due to his alleged role in inciting the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Trump’s appeal has reached the Supreme Court, where oral arguments are slated for Thursday.
Legal experts assert the weakness of Trump’s case, given his absence of criminal conviction for insurrection. One argument posits that the constitutional amendment banning individuals from public office does not apply to the president, a dubious interpretation.
The political nature of the Supreme Court further complicates the scenario, with Trump having appointed three justices and three others leaning conservative.
The court faces a dilemma – ruling in favor of excluding Trump from the ballot could have immense consequences, while granting absolute immunity might erode its authority.
The court’s likely path forward lies in the fact that there are two cases. Trump’s weakest argument, claiming immunity from criminal liability as president, has fewer immediate consequences. He can still run for president while facing trial and even if convicted, could appeal individual convictions in the future.
Simultaneously, the court must consider the potential backlash of using legal measures to keep Trump off the ballot. This delicate balancing act allows the Supreme Court to maintain the semblance of impartiality while navigating constitutional and legal norms.
The approach, while possibly pragmatic, underscores a trend of constitutional bodies contorting around Trump to prevent a more catastrophic rupture. The United States’ constitutional framework is tiptoeing along the precipice, with the potential for a violent rupture looming ever closer.