If there is a lawsuit involving electoral meddling, the US Supreme Court will determine whether Trump is immune.

Donald Trump’s legal and political destiny are at stake in a major lawsuit that the US Supreme Court will hear on Thursday.

During a hearing, attorneys for Mr. Trump and Special Counsel Jack Smith will argue whether or not previous presidents are exempt from criminal prosecution for conduct they took while in office.

Last year, Mr. Smith accused the former president of trying to tamper with the 2020 election results. But Mr. Trump argues that the US Constitution prohibits him from being charged. The trial has been placed on hold while the disagreement, which has now reached the highest court in the nation, is resolved.

Since Mr. Trump is the first former president to be charged with a federal crime, this case is unprecedented. There will be historic significance to the Supreme Court’s ruling, which is anticipated no sooner than June.

The trial is scheduled to recommence in late summer, overlapping with the presidential election season, should the court decide that Mr. Trump may face legal action. On the other hand, additional criminal cases against him can be dropped if the court grants him immunity.

The court rejected Mr. Smith’s request for it to make a decision by December.

Professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Kermit Roosevelt said, “It was famously said by Richard Nixon that the people of America should know whether their president is a crook. It appears that the Supreme Court disagrees. They’re happy to hold off on making a choice until after the poll.

Potential claims made by Donald Trump’s attorneys

It is anticipated that Mr. Trump’s legal team would cite a 1982 court decision involving former President Nixon, which established presidents’ immunity from civil liability—that is, lawsuits brought by private parties—for activities performed while serving in their official capacities. They contend that criminal culpability should be governed by the same guidelines.
Professor Roosevelt, a former Supreme Court clerk for legal David Souter, stated, “The president should be able to carry out his duties without the fear of being targeted or retaliated against by the justice system.”

But a clause in the US Constitution that states that officials removed from office through Senate impeachment proceedings are still “liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment, according to law” complicates this line of reasoning.

This phrase, according to Mr. Trump’s legal team, means that former presidents can only be tried for crimes after being impeached and found guilty by the US Senate. In February 2021, Mr. Trump’s trial to be impeached was held, but he was found not guilty of encouraging the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.

According to David Super, a law professor at Georgetown University, Mr. Trump is taking a “absolute” stand on presidential immunity. His legal team contends that prosecuting former presidents criminally would compromise the integrity of the presidency and the division of powers between the judicial and executive departments.

This stance might derive from the Supreme Court judges’ belief that Mr. Trump’s actions—trying to rig elections for personal benefit—do not constitute official duties.

“He’s taken a very definite view on this issue,” Prof. Super declared. “While it may not be dangerous, it clearly carries enormous risk.”

How Jack Smith’s group would react

Presidents could act with impunity and break any law without repercussions if they are given total immunity from criminal prosecution while in office, according to the special counsel’s office, which is warning against the possible consequences.

In a lower court, one judge remarked that based on Mr. Trump’s claim, the president might command a special forces unit to kill a political opponent without being prosecuted.
Prosecutors further claim that Mr. Trump’s claim that previous presidents are immune from prosecution as long as they do not face conviction in an impeachment trial opens a legal loophole. In order to avoid prosecution, this might let presidents to commit crimes near the end of their tenure or to step down before being found guilty by the Senate.

Mr. Smith said in a Supreme Court brief summarizing the arguments he will make on Thursday, “No person, including the president, is exempt from the law.”

Mr. Smith also makes reference to Mr. Nixon, even though there are no previous cases of a former president being prosecuted. He contends that former presidents were aware that they might face criminal charges, as evidenced by Mr. Nixon’s pardon for covering up the Watergate affair after he left office.

Possible rulings by the Supreme Court…

The justices, three of whom were nominated by Mr. Trump, have the authority to declare that former presidents are immune from prosecution in all cases or to determine that they are not.

As an alternative, the court may decide to take a moderate stance. It might, for example, set standards for jurors to follow, such as whether the former president’s acts were appropriate for his position. Alternatively, the court may conclude that Mr. Trump is partially immune but defer to a lower court to consider the details before going to trial.

“I believe that, politically, this would be a very appealing option,” Mr. Super added. “I don’t think they would want to bear sole responsibility for ending these prosecutions.”

A decision of that kind would throw doubt on Mr. Smith’s prosecution, but it might also open the door to more obstacles and postponements.

Mr. Roosevelt proposed that the judges aim for unanimity in light of the politically sensitive nature of the issue, following their precedent in a case involving Mr. Trump and Colorado’s primary ballot. This could lead to a fair decision that recognizes some degree of presidential immunity while not giving Mr. Trump total protection.

But ideological differences could potentially cause the court to become divided. According to Mr. Super’s theory, the three most conservative justices would be in favor of broad immunity, the three most liberal justices would not defend Mr. Trump, and the three remaining justices would fall in the middle.

The moderate justices’ position would win out in this situation, but it might also leave subordinate courts in the dark.

These implications carry significant ramifications.

The verdict in this case may have an immediate impact on Mr. Trump’s Georgia election meddling case as well as the one involving secret papers found at his Florida home. Even if the alleged crimes happened after Mr. Trump took office, he says he declassified the materials during that time.

The Supreme Court’s decision has no bearing on the pending hush-money trial in New York. Although the Court may rule later this year regarding presidential immunity from prosecution, the New York jury is still considering whether Mr. Trump is accountable for crimes done in 2016 while he was a candidate.