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In Trump Immunity Case, Supreme Court Isn’t Establishing a ‘Rule for the Ages’

Donald Trump (Credits: Asharq Al-Awsat)

The urgency with which the Supreme Court needs a reminder about its role in the legal system is palpable, and the responsibility falls on those who understand the fundamental principles of judicial decision-making.

The nature of the matter is clear: the Supreme Court’s function is not to craft enduring rules but to adjudicate cases based on the facts and circumstances presented before it.

Unlike legislatures, which have the authority to draft broad laws governing conduct, courts operate within the confines of the specific case at hand.

Donald Trump (Credits: Pennsylvania Capital-Star)

This distinction is fundamental. Courts, as the least dangerous branch, exercise what Alexander Bickel termed “the passive virtues” by refraining from deciding cases on substantive grounds unless absolutely necessary. Their role is to interpret the law as it applies to the facts before them, nothing more.

Justice Gorsuch’s assertion that the Supreme Court is “writing a rule for the ages” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the judiciary’s function.

The court’s decisions are binding only within the context of the specific case being heard. Any attempt to extrapolate broad rules from individual cases is fraught with risks and pitfalls, as courts lack the foresight and expertise to anticipate all potential future scenarios.

Legislatures, on the other hand, are equipped to draft general laws after thorough deliberation and input from stakeholders.

They have the authority to consider the broader implications of their legislation and can craft laws that endure over time. Courts, constrained by the facts of the cases before them, lack the capacity to engage in such broad rulemaking.

The solution to the current conundrum lies in a return to first principles. Justices must remember the foundational principles of judicial decision-making taught in law school. They must resist the temptation to overreach and instead focus on the narrow issues presented by each case.

Donald Trump (Credits: Vox)

In the case at hand, the focus should be on whether Trump can be prosecuted based on the facts pleaded in the indictment. If prosecution is warranted, the decision should be affirmed.

If errors exist in the indictment that can be rectified, the case should be remanded for further proceedings with clear guidance on what needs to be addressed. And if prosecution is not viable based on the facts presented, the appellate court’s decision should be reversed without remand.

These are the choices consistent with the principles of judicial restraint and fidelity to the rule of law. Anything beyond that risks overstepping the court’s bounds and compromising the integrity of the legal system. It’s time for a refresher course on the judiciary’s role and responsibilities, lest the court stray further from its intended purpose.

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