Supreme Court’s Trump Immunity Ruling Avoids the Obvious: He’s Running Again

(Bloomberg) -- The Supreme Court’s decision declaring Donald Trump partially immune from prosecution for efforts to overturn the 2020 election avoided mentioning what makes it a blockbuster: He’s campaigning to reclaim the presidency.

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The opinion from Chief Justice John Roberts and the concurrences and dissents written by his colleagues discussed the far-reaching consequences of the court’s decision on future presidents, the separation of powers among the political branches and the interests of voters generally in the democratic process.

But the justices didn’t address the more immediate effect of Monday’s ruling on the political fight raging outside the courthouse as Trump makes another run for the White House.

The decision all but ensures a trial — and a verdict — won’t happen before the Nov. 5 election, an outcome that Trump’s critics slammed as helping him ahead of the election. Trump’s lawyers had repeatedly invoked the 2024 election in pushing to delay a trial until after voters went to the polls.

The majority held in the 6-3 opinion Trump is immune from prosecution for certain official acts he took as president, such as communicating with Justice Department officials. The court directed US District Judge Tanya Chutkan to do a detailed parsing of the indictment to determine whether he enjoys immunity for other actions he took after the 2020 election.

Although the justices would be aware of the practical consequences of their decision on the election, it’s not surprising that they would stay away from acknowledging that, said John Jones III, a former federal judge and currently the president of Dickinson College.

“It’s a wall that I don’t think the chief justice would breach because as soon as you start talking about an election calendar, I think it manifestly shows an interest in the political process,” Jones said.

‘Farsighted’ Opinion

Roberts didn’t address the 2024 election head-on, but defended the court’s “farsighted” perspective on the question of presidential immunity against charges and the majority’s decision not to rule more conclusively on the bulk of the indictment against Trump. The immunity framework that the majority laid out “applies equally to all occupants of the Oval Office, regardless of politics, policy, or party,” he wrote.

“Unlike the political branches and the public at large, we cannot afford to fixate exclusively, or even primarily, on present exigencies,” Roberts wrote. “In a case like this one, focusing on ‘transient results’ may have profound consequences for the separation of powers and for the future of our Republic.”

Keeping Up With Trump and His Trials: A Timeline of Court Dates

The dissenting opinions similarly focused on the big-picture implications of the decision and didn’t explicitly touch on the election. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the majority made a “mockery of the principle, foundational to our Constitution and system of government, that no man is above the law.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pushed back on the notion that the majority was “seeking to transcend politics” but couched that criticism in general terms, writing that her colleagues had endorsed undermining the judgments of the other branches of government “about the circumstances under which the criminal law should apply.”

Trump’s legal team had brought up the election before the Supreme Court earlier this year when they argued to pause the lower court proceedings during their appeal on the immunity issue. Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office opposed that. When the justices agreed to hear the case earlier this year, there was no mention of Trump’s election-related concerns.

A spokesperson for Trump and a representative for Smith’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The court’s silence on the legal significance, if any, of Trump’s status as a political candidate means it will again be up to Chutkan to decide what kind of schedule to set in the coming months. Under the court’s normal practice, the justices would enter a judgment and formally return the case to Chutkan in about a month. That would happen after the Republican National Convention in mid-July, when Trump is expected to officially become his party’s nominee.

Chutkan last year rejected pushing out the case schedule to accommodate the election calendar, saying that Trump wasn’t entitled to special treatment as a candidate any more than another defendant claiming that a criminal case interfered with their ability to do their job.

“I intend to keep politics out of this,” the judge said during a hearing last summer.

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