If Trump regains the presidency, he could seek to force an end to the prosecution or potentially pardon himself for any federal crimes. Photo: AFP/Pool

US Supreme Court justices in Trump case lean toward some level of immunity

By John Kruzel and Andrew Chung for Reuters |

Conservative US Supreme Court justices signaled sympathy on Thursday to the argument that presidents have some immunity against criminal charges for certain actions taken in office as it heard arguments over Donald Trump’s claim of immunity from prosecution for trying to undo his 2020 election loss.

Some of the questions posed during the arguments probed hypothetical examples of presidential wrongdoing such as selling nuclear secrets, ordering a coup or political assassination or taking a bribe. But some of the conservative justices, who hold a 6-3 majority, voiced concern about presidents lacking any level of immunity including for less obviously egregious acts.

“We’re writing a rule for the ages,” conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, said during the arguments.

Trump appealed after lower courts rejected his request to be shielded from four election-related criminal charges on the grounds that he was serving as president when he took the actions that led to the indictment obtained by Special Counsel Jack Smith.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito said a president is in “a peculiarly precarious position,” as he expressed concern about presidents having to worry about being indicted.

“If an incumbent who loses a very close, hotly contested election knows that a real possibility after leaving office is not that the president is going to be able to go off into a peaceful retirement but that the president may be criminally prosecuted by a bitter political opponent – will that not lead us into a cycle that destabilizes the functioning of our country as a democracy?” Alito asked Michael Dreeben, the lawyer representing the special counsel.

“And we can look around the world and find countries where we have seen this process where the loser gets thrown in jail,” Alito added.

“So I think it’s exactly the opposite, Justice Alito,” Dreeben responded. “There are lawful mechanisms to contest the results in an election.”

Trump, the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden in the 5 November election, is the first former US president to be criminally prosecuted.

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