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The U.S. Supreme Court docket introduced on Feb. 28, 2024, that it will consider the momentous issue of whether or not Donald Trump is immune from felony prosecution, delaying the federal prosecution of the previous president for his alleged efforts to subvert the 2020 election.

A decrease courtroom, the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, dominated on Feb. 6 that Trump could be prosecuted, rejecting his claims of immunity. Trump appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court docket.

Claire Wofford, a political scientist who teaches constitutional regulation and American authorities on the Faculty of Charleston, analyzed that previous ruling for The Conversation. Senior politics and democracy editor Naomi Schalit requested Wofford to reply questions right here concerning the Supreme Court docket’s determination to think about the Trump immunity case.

What query did the Supreme Court docket say it is going to deal with by taking this case?

In agreeing to listen to this case, the Supreme Court docket justices mentioned they are going to determine whether or not or not Trump is immune from felony prosecution by Particular Counsel Jack Smith for his alleged try to overturn the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election. Till that query is answered, Smith’s prosecution – which was already on hold in the course of the decrease courtroom deliberations – cannot move forward.

Donald Trump wears a black jacket and red tie and walks down steps outside, flanked by two men also in suits.

Former President Donald Trump leaves a press convention following his look on the D.C. Appeals Court docket on Jan. 9, 2024. The courtroom thought of the declare that he’s immune from prosecution.
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

Is there one thing that’s not apparent about how the Supreme Court docket acknowledged this query?

The precise phrasing of the query the Supreme Court docket mentioned it is going to reply is fascinating: “Whether or not and in that case to what extent does a former President take pleasure in presidential immunity from felony prosecution for conduct alleged to contain official acts throughout his tenure in workplace.” The courtroom acknowledged it is going to reply not solely whether or not Trump may need immunity but in addition “to what extent” that immunity exists.

This raises the likelihood that moderately than merely reply if Trump does or doesn’t have immunity, the courtroom could also be seeking to lengthen immunity to a few of Trump’s actions and never others. It might additionally point out that at the very least some justices consider future presidents ought to take pleasure in some immunity from felony prosecutions for actions they took whereas in workplace, however that this could not lengthen to what it’s alleged Trump did on this Jan. 6 case.

Making this sort of distinction – which the D.C. Circuit ruling didn’t – might clarify why at the very least 4 justices on the Supreme Court docket agreed to listen to the case. Relatively than merely affirm – or reverse – the decrease courtroom, the justices could also be interested by making a extra nuanced ruling than the decrease courts have accomplished.

The top half of the Supreme Court building, including pillars, is seen on a gray day. The U.S. flag waves above it.

The U.S. Supreme Court docket is seen on Feb. 28, 2024, the day it introduced that it could hear the case concerning former President Donald Trump’s immunity from prosecution.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

How will this have an effect on the timing of the Jan. 6 prosecution?

For now, the federal prosecution within the Jan. 6 case will stay on maintain.

The Supreme Court docket has set oral arguments within the case for April 22, 2024, and would presumably problem a choice by June. That call may very well be delayed, nonetheless, if the justices aren’t capable of attain an settlement or a number of of them want to write separate opinions.

Is that this going to be a historic determination?

Completely. Even when the Supreme Court docket have been to easily state that Trump does or doesn’t have immunity from felony prosecution, that alone could be a serious new assertion of constitutional doctrine.

If the justices go additional and specify circumstances by which immunity would or wouldn’t apply to a former president, that will even be a really important authorized improvement.

In any occasion, on condition that the ruling will decide whether or not Smith’s federal case in opposition to Trump strikes ahead, the choice will doubtless make each authorized and political historical past.

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