Is Trump shielded from criminal charges as an ex-president? A nation awaits word from Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will soon confront a perfect storm mostly of its own making: a trio of decisions stemming directly from the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the coming days, the Supreme Court will confront a perfect storm mostly of its own making: a trio of decisions stemming directly from the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Within days of each other, if not hours, the justices are expected to rule on whether Donald Trump has immunity from criminal charges over his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat and whether Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol can be prosecuted for obstructing an official proceeding.

The court also will decide whether former Trump adviser Steve Bannon can stay out of prison while he appeals his contempt of Congress conviction for defying a subpoena from the House committee that investigated the Capitol attack.

These cases are among the dozen or so major disputes dealing with abortion, homelessness, the power of federal regulators, the opioid epidemic and social media platforms that the justices have left to decide as the traditional end of their term’s work nears.

Taken together, the three cases connected to the Republican former president could feed narratives about the court and its conservative supermajority, which includes three justices appointed by Trump and two other justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, who have rejected calls to step away from the Jan. 6 cases because of questions about their impartiality.

From the perspective of Trump and his allies, the outcomes could provide more fodder for their claims that the Justice Department has treated the Capitol riot defendants unfairly. The riots resulted in more than 1,400 criminal cases in which 200 people have been convicted and more than 850 pleaded guilty to crimes.

That has not deterred Trump and his allies from claiming the Justice Department has treated the Capitol riot defendants unfairly. The outcomes of the cases could give them more reasons to decry the prosecutions.

The court’s handling of the immunity issue already has provoked criticism, both that the justices took up the issue at all — particularly given a unanimous federal appeals court ruling that rejected Trump's claim — and more recently that they haven’t yet decided it.

Even if the court limits Trump’s immunity, or rejects his claims altogether, allowing his trial on election interference to go forward in Washington means “it is unlikely a verdict will be delivered before the election,” University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman wrote in The New York Times.

While the court has moved more quickly than usual in taking up the immunity case, it has acted far more speedily in other epic cases involving presidential power, including in the Watergate tapes case. Nearly 50 years ago, the court ruled 8-0 a mere 16 days after hearing arguments that Richard Nixon had to turn over recordings of Oval Office conversations, rejecting his claim of executive privilege.

In March, it took the justices less than a month after arguments to rule unanimously that the Constitution's post-Civil War "insurrection clause" couldn't be used by states to kick Trump off the presidential ballot.

The three cases related to Trump's effort to undo his election loss in 2020 highlight how often he has appeared in the court's work this year, though now he is doing so as the Republican Party's presumptive nominee for president. Trump also was a factor in two social media cases and even a trademark dispute over the phrase "Trump too small."

The court almost always finishes its work by the end of June, but that won't happen this year.

The court will issue decisions Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, then return next week to deal with whatever is left. Among the other cases left to decide:

— Can doctors provide abortions in medical emergencies in states that banned abortion after the court overturned Roe v. Wade? In a case out of Idaho, the Biden administration says abortions must be allowed in emergencies where a woman's health is at serious risk, while the state argues it is enough that its strict abortion ban contains an exception to save a woman's life.

— The most significant Supreme Court case in decades on homelessness centers on whether people can be banned from sleeping outdoors when shelter space is lacking. A San Francisco-based appeals court ruled such bans amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Leaders from California and across the West say the ruling makes it harder for them to regulate homeless encampments encroaching on sidewalks and other public places.

— The justices could overturn a 40-year-old decision that has been cited thousands of times in federal court cases and used to uphold regulations on the environment, public health, workplace safety and consumer protections. The decision colloquially known as Chevron calls on judges to defer to federal regulators when the words of a statute are not crystal clear. The decision has long been targeted by conservative and business interests who say Chevron robs judges of their authority and gives too much power to regulators.

— Three cases remain unresolved at the intersection of social media and government. Two cases involve social media laws in Texas and Florida that would limit how Facebook, TikTok, X, YouTube and other social media platforms regulate content posted by their users. In the third case, Republican-led states are suing the Biden administration over how far the federal government can go to counter controversial social media posts on topics including COVID-19 and election security.

— The Supreme Court controls the fate of a nationwide settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that would allocate billions of dollars to combat the opioid epidemic, but also provide a legal shield for members of the Sackler family who own the company. The settlement has been on hold since last summer after the Supreme Court agreed to weigh in.

— Republican-led, energy-producing states and the steel industry want the court to put the Environmental Protection Agency's air pollution-fighting "good neighbor" plan on hold while legal challenges continue. The plan aims to protect downwind states that receive unwanted air pollution from other states.

— Another important regulatory case could strip the Securities and Exchange Commission of a major tool in fighting securities fraud and have far-reaching effects on other regulatory agencies. The court is being asked to rule that people facing civil fraud complaints have the right to a jury trial in federal court.


Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.


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