What the Supreme Court is doing right in considering Trump's immunity case

Following the just about three-hour oral hearing on presidential immunity before the Supreme Court on April 25, 2024, Many commentators were horrified. The general theme amongst legal and political experts was a frank assessment of the mostly conservative justices as they questioned the attorneys who appeared before them in what was generally known as the case Trump vs. the United States.

Instead of delving specifically and deeply into the small print of Trump's try and undermine the 2020 election, virtually all nine justices as an alternative raised larger questions, peppered with hypotheticals – hello again, Seal Team Six! — in regards to the reach of executive power, the intent of the nation's founding fathers, and one of the best solution to promote a stable democracy.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh Justice Neil Gorsuch's “I'm not focused on the here and now of this case” and “We're writing a rule for the ages” drew particular attention.

The heading and subheading on the The New York Times evaluation by Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak complained that the court “took Trump’s immunity arguments in an unexpected direction” without saying “very little about the president’s conduct.” And the story itself was in regards to the justices responding to Trump's claim that he shouldn’t be indicted as a “hard and difficult question.”

Slate's Amicus Podcast complained the court for not specializing in the “narrow question” the case posed, but as an alternative “going off track” and “jumping all over the map” with various legal arguments. A Guest on NPR's 1A program complained that the court inserted “new questions” into the oral argument to “slowly advance” the case and forestall Trump from being tried before the election.

But here's what the experts appear to have forgotten: What happened in court that day shouldn't have surprised anyone, least of all this one Constitutional scholars like me Familiar with Supreme Court proceedings.

A man in a dark suit and red tie comes out of a building with a police officer near him.
Donald Trump's lawyers told the Supreme Court that a president's actions needs to be shielded from criminal prosecution.
Curtis Means Pool/Getty Images

Five words “change everything”

Trump's case arose from his prosecution by special counsel Jack Smith over his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Trump claimed he was immune from prosecution as president and took his case to the Supreme Court.

When parties appeal their case to the court, they need to tell the judges what specific legal query(s) they need the judges to reply. As A colleague and I explored it In a recent journal article, the court generally accepts what’s described as “Featured Questions” as given, consent to listen to a case without making adjustments to its legal framework.

However, sometimes the court changes the legal issue ultimately. Why that is so is an issue that scientists like me are only starting to explore. And since it is that this query – moderately than the one originally asked by the litigant – that frames the legal evaluation, judges can exercise real control over each the case itself and the event of the law.

Trump v. United States is a classic example. As lawyers for the previous president submitted their application to the courtThe query they posed was: “Whether the doctrine of absolute presidential immunity includes immunity from prosecution for official acts of a president.”

When it granted the petition at the tip of February 2024, the court ruled has modified this language to “Whether, and if so, to what extent, does a former president enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct that purports to be official acts while in office?”

Five of those additional words – “If so, to what extent” – modified every part. They sent a transparent signal that the court would go far beyond an easy yes-or-no assessment of whether Trump might be prosecuted.

Nine men and women sit in two rows and wear black robes.
The full nine-judge Supreme Court heard oral arguments within the immunity case.
Fred Schilling, United States Supreme Court Collection

The court is doing its job

By reframing the query, the justices would as an alternative determine how, when and for what actions a president could ever be held criminally responsible.

This is a much wider inquiry, which necessarily involves formulating a legal test to attract a line between what’s constitutionally permissible and what shouldn’t be. That the justices tried to just do that in oral arguments shouldn’t be an issue, let alone an outrage: it's just the court, the very best appeals court within the land, doing its job.

The scope of the argument, the length of the approaching opinions and the time the justices is not going to have to put in writing them, in addition to the possible dismissal of the case against Trump should not in any respect shocking. The court had signaled months ago that it might address the broader issue when it took on the case; It was then, not now, time to accuse the court of the undeniable fact that the matter is about greater than just Donald Trump.

But perhaps the response of commentators to the oral argument might be a superb lesson. are Americans said to take Trump at his wordexpects his second term to be limited all extremes he says happily that it can be so.

When the Supreme Court indicates what legal query it can answer, the smart response is to do the identical – concentrate and consider. That may not make the tip result any less unpleasant for a lot of, but no less than it won't be quite as unsettling.

image credit : theconversation.com