What Does SCOTUS Really Intend To Settle With Immunity Case?


Some people go to church and pray when all seems lost. I usually go to Marcy Wheeler:

It seems likely SCOTUS has committed to deciding the immunity question by the end of term, in June.

That would present Tanya Chutkan with the decision of whether to try the January 6 case during the election season (it is her choice, not DOJ’s to make). She had been entertaining starting the trial in August, which would have bled into election season as it is, so she may decide to do this. If she does, it is unlikely a jury would reach a verdict before election day, but the trial would give voters opportunity to see the evidence before voting.

The decision to grant cert is as interesting for Trump’s other immunity claim — Trump’s even more frivolous claim that he can’t be prosecuted for stealing boxes and boxes of classified documents because his claimed decision to convert those government documents to his personal possession in violation of the Presidential Records Act is immune from prosecution, as well. I’ve seen some commentary that SCOTUS may have been trying to come up with a different solution but then decided to hear the case. If that’s true, the decision to hear the case came less than a week after Trump made that other claim of immunity, that he can steal classified documents with impunity. Who knows? It’s not before the court, but it may have affected their decision to hear the case.

The matter will be fully briefed by the time Jack Smith submits his brief to SCOTUS on April 8. So he can have two absurd claims of immunity to address, Trump’s claim he can steal the election with impunity, and Trump’s claim he can convert boxes and boxes of classified documents to do with as he pleases on the way out the door even if it violates the Presidential Records Act, a law passed specifically to apply to Presidents. One of the matters that had been hypothetical before the DC Circuit — that Trump might sell nuclear documents to our adversaries — has become concrete.

Marcy points out that the D.C. circuit’s ruling did not spell out the legal limits of immunity, and suggests this is why SCOTUS took the case:

There has to be something that distinguishes such actions from those charged against Trump. That something is likely the conversion of the Presidency to one’s own personal benefit. It’s not in the DC Circuit opinion and needs to be — all the more so given that, in Florida, Trump is claiming that he could legally simply convert boxes and boxes of classified documents to his personal property, even though the Presidential Records Act prohibits it.

It’s not in the DC Circuit opinion. But something like that has to be, some measure to distinguish the ordinary unlawful stuff Presidents are asked to authorize on behalf of the country and the venal stuff Trump did to benefit himself.

She also thinks SCOTUS will rule on the case by the end of its term, allowing Trump’s D.C. trial to start by August.

So this is a cautiously optimistic outlook that may allow us to make it through the summer without despair. We will see.





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