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What to Watch for in the Supreme Court Debates on Donald Trump and Presidential Immunity

What to Watch for in the Supreme Court Debates on Donald Trump and Presidential Immunity


WASHINGTON (AP) The Supreme Court hears arguments Thursday on whether Donald Trump is immune from prosecution in a case accusing him of plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

It's a historic day for the Court, with the justices having the opportunity to decide once and for all whether former presidents can be prosecuted for official acts they performed while in the White House.

But between a decades-old court case involving Richard Nixon and an obscure constitutional provision on presidential impeachments, it's likely that some unfamiliar concepts and terms will come up.

Here are some tips to help you keep track of everything:


The court marshal will bang the gavel at 10 a.m. EDT and Chief Justice John Roberts will announce the start of arguments in Donald J. Trump v. United States of America, as the case is called.

The session could easily last two hours or more.


There are no cameras in the courtroom, but since the pandemic, the court has been livestreaming its proceedings. Listen live at or on the courts' website at C-SPAN will also broadcast the arguments on


Expect to hear about the impeachment process and how it relates, if at all, to criminal proceedings.

At the heart of Trump's immunity argument is the assertion that only a former president who has been impeached and convicted by the Senate can be criminally prosecuted. Trump was impeached for his efforts to overturn the election on the eve of the violent riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. But he was acquitted, not convicted, by the Senate in 2021.

Trump's lawyers cite to support their argument a provision of the Constitution known as the Impeachment Judgment Clause, which states that an official found guilty by the Senate will nonetheless be liable and subject to impeachment, at a later date. trial, judgment and punishment in court.

FILE – Members of the Supreme Court sit for a new group portrait following the addition of Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, in the Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite )

Prosecutors say the Trump team misinterpreted the clause and that conviction in the Senate is not a prerequisite for legal action.


There will be plenty of discussion about Nixon, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

Trump's team has repeatedly drawn attention to a 1982 case, Nixon v. Fitzgerald, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a former president could not be sued civilly for his actions while in office. The case involved the firing of an Air Force analyst, A. Ernest Fitzgerald, who had testified before Congress about cost overruns in the production of a transport plane.

Fitzgerald's lawsuit against Nixon, president at the time of his dismissal in 1970, failed, with Justice Lewis Powell writing for the court that presidents are entitled to absolute immunity from civil suits for acts that fall within the outer perimeter of their official duties.

Importantly, this ruling did not shield presidents from criminal liability, even though Trump's team says the same analysis should apply.

Special counsel Jack Smith's team is also likely to bring up a separate Supreme Court decision involving Nixon that they say strengthens their case for a 1974 opinion that forced the president to turn over incriminating House recordings Blanche to use them in the proceedings against her main collaborators.

Prosecutors also noted that Nixon accepted rather than refused a subsequent pardon from President Gerald Ford, an acknowledgment by the men, they say, that a former president was under prosecution.


Judges are known to enjoy presenting hypothetical scenarios to lawyers to test the limits of their arguments. Expect this practice to be on full display Thursday as the court weighs whether former presidents are entitled to absolute immunity.

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally in Washington, January 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Trump's lawyers have already warned that if the lawsuits were allowed to move forward, it would open the door to criminal charges against other presidents, such as for authorizing a drone strike killing a U.S. citizen or for provided false information to the Congress that runs the Congress. country in war.

In a memorable moment during a January argument before a federal appeals court, a judge asked a Trump lawyer whether a president who ordered a Navy SEAL to assassinate a political rival could be prosecuted.

Look for Smiths' team to try to draw a sharp distinction between acts it says are quintessential exercises of presidential power, like ordering a drone strike during war, and the acts Trump is accused of in this business, such as participation in an organizational project. fake voters in battleground states. According to prosecutors, these actions are personal and not presidential.


Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.




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