Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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The Supreme Court’s Astonishing Decision: Trump Above The Law

Trump's immunity ruling highlights Supreme Court’s blatant partisan favoritism, ensures no trial until after the election.

United States Supreme Court Building
Photo: Glenn Beltz

In a ruling that can only be seen as a disgrace of our country’s founding principles, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has ruled that sitting and former presidents are immune from prosecution for actions that can be loosely categorized as “official acts.” This six-to-three decision not only transforms the presidency into a near-monarchical role devoid of accountability but also ensures that Donald Trump won’t face trial until after the next election. And if he wins, he’ll evade justice completely by killing the case or pardoning himself. 

In this case, the Court’s strategy was clearly one of delay. Last December, when the Colorado Supreme Court barred Trump from the 2024 ballot under the Insurrection Clause, the Supreme Court acted swiftly, hearing arguments and issuing a decision within weeks. But when special prosecutor Jack Smith sought a similarly expedited appeal regarding Trump’s immunity, the Court declined. 

Instead, it let the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia handle it, which they did, affirming on February 6th that Trump was not immune from prosecution. The Supreme Court then took nearly five months to issue its ruling, almost twice the time it took for the Colorado case. Where speed benefited Trump, they expedited; where delay was advantageous, they stalled. They couldn’t make it more obvious that their desire is to help Trump.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the majority opinion, contended that the president needs broad, absolute immunity to maintain the vigor and independence envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. “Immunity is required to safeguard the independence and effective functioning of the Executive Branch, and to enable the President to carry out his constitutional duties without undue caution,” Roberts stated.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, in her concurrence, opined that some charges, particularly those involving Trump’s attempt to create fake elector slates, might still warrant a trial. Nonetheless, Chief Justice Roberts’s ruling sets an almost insurmountable bar for prosecutors, suggesting that criminal prosecutions must pose “no dangers of intrusion on the authority and functions of the Executive Branch.”

It’s striking, though, how past presidents managed to do their job without such sweeping immunity for centuries until Donald Trump arrived and committed numerous crimes in plain sight. President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon is a great example of how presidents are not above the law, and an acknowledgment that immunity is neither necessary nor justified.

Sotomayor: Decision Undermines Constitutional Principles

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, issued a blistering dissent that exposed the devastating implications of this decision. “Today’s decision to grant former Presidents criminal immunity reshapes the institution of the Presidency,” Sotomayor stated plainly. “It makes a mockery of the principle, foundational to our Constitution and system of Government, that no man is above the law.”

Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court
Photo: Wheelock College

Justice Jackson, in her dissent, echoed these dire concerns, stating, “The seeds of absolute power for Presidents have been planted. And, without a doubt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” She cited the dangerous examples: a president could authorize Navy SEALs to assassinate political rivals, organize a military coup to maintain power, or accept bribes in exchange for pardons (which Trump allegedly did), all while being shielded by this unprecedented immunity.

Sotomayor emphasized, “The relationship between the President and the people he serves has shifted irrevocably. In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.” Justice Jackson also described the ruling as fundamentally anti-democratic: “From this day forward, Presidents of tomorrow will be free to exercise the Commander-in-Chief powers, the foreign-affairs powers, and all the vast law enforcement powers enshrined in Article II however they please—including in ways that Congress has deemed criminal and that have potentially grave consequences for the rights and liberties of Americans.”

Before this Supreme Court decision, both the district court and an appellate court rejected Trump’s assertions of immunity. Yet, during the surreal oral arguments, several far-right justices entertained the notion that a President could assassinate a political opponent with impunity.

Supreme Court’s Delay Robs Voters of Crucial Information

By slowing walking this case, the Court’s right-wing majority has robbed the American people of their right to know whether Donald Trump committed crimes when he orchestrated the insurrection before they vote in November. 

The political ramifications of this Supreme Court decision go beyond providing Trump a legal shield; it casts a long shadow over American democracy itself. It fundamentally delays, if not quashes, Special Counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution for election subversion, making it likely that Trump will not face trial before the presidential election. The decision gives Trump what many experts deem a “get-out-of-jail-free” card, letting him operate above the law while he vies for a return to the White House.

Let’s be clear: none of the four criminal charges Trump faces—conspiracy to defraud the United States, two counts of obstructing an official proceeding, and conspiracy to deprive civil rights—had anything to do with legitimate presidential duties. Overseeing elections is the constitutional province of states, not the federal executive branch. Trump was acting entirely in his capacity as a failed candidate trying to desperately cling to power through extralegal means when he: 

1. Incited a mob on the Capitol.

2. Propagated false claims of election fraud.

3. Attempted to coerce the Justice Department into supporting these baseless allegations. 

4. Orchestrated a scheme to submit false slates of electors in states won by President Biden. 

5. Pressured Vice President Mike Pence to use these fake electors to overturn the election results during Congress’s certification on January 6, 2021.

Trump’s insurrection attempt was an egregious abuse of power, an assault on the integrity of American elections, and a direct attack on democracy itself. Yet the Supreme Court’s Republican-appointed majority has now gifted Trump, and any future president so inclined, near-total immunity for this sort of authoritarian criminality.

Reviving Tyranny Founding Fathers Fought to Overcome

This ruling directly contradicts the ideals our Founding Fathers fought for. It’s a blatantly partisan power grab that distorts our country’s core tenets of self-governance and equal justice under the law. The founders, who rebelled against an unaccountable monarch, would be appalled at the idea of an American president being above prosecution for wielding state power to cling to office by force. The Court has effectively revived the very tyranny that American revolutionaries sacrificed their lives to defeat.

Presidential immunity is a concept that the framers of the Constitution were meticulously clear to avoid. The framers, fresh from a revolution against the British monarchy, devised a government structure that ensured no individual, not even a president, was above the law. In Federalist No. 69, Alexander Hamilton argued that a president should be “liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law.” This understanding was even evident when President Gerald Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon, acknowledging Nixon’s potential criminal liability.

The United States now faces the perilous implication of this decision: Trump has openly declared his intentions to weaponize the Justice Department against his political opponents and be a dictator on day one. Ironically, the Court’s decision provides him the very immunity to commit the abuses of power that our founding fathers warned against.

Allegations of Bribery Cloud Supreme Court’s Image

The two Republican-appointed justices who perhaps most glaringly epitomize this judicial travesty are Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Justice Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, actively participated in the insurrection, making her an insurrectionist herself and a figure who should face criminal scrutiny. Meanwhile, Alito flew an insurrectionist flag shortly after January 6, an obvious act of support for the insurrection attempt. 

justice alito insurrectionist flag e1719879895811
A ‘Appeal to Heaven’ flag was prominently displayed outside the Alito family’s New Jersey vacation home last summer. The same flag was a common sight during the January 6th insurrection.

Both justices, tainted by evident biases and conflicts of interest, should have recused themselves from this case, especially given their deep entanglements with top GOP donors and their acceptance of bribes in the form of luxury gifts and financial perks. Their failure to do so has further compromised the Supreme Court’s integrity.

And let’s not ignore the rank corruption and bribery accusations facing the Supreme Court. Recent investigations have revealed Alito and Thomas accepted a steady stream of gifts and funding from right-wing donors—including private school tuition, luxury vacations, and real estate. These so-called “gifts” are tantamount to bribes, rendering them hopelessly compromised vessels serving the Republican Party’s interests, rather than impartial arbiters of the law.

Voters Deprived of Verdict Before 2024 Election

In a democracy already strained by deep partisan divides and eroding trust in its institutions, this ruling is profoundly damaging. It not only disrupts the balance of power between the branches of government but also undermines the foundational principles of the nation. By granting near-absolute immunity to a president for actions deemed “official,” the Supreme Court has paved the way for authoritarianism.

Most troubling is that this undemocratic court has deprived the American electorate of the opportunity to determine Trump’s guilt or innocence before the 2024 election. No matter how compelling the evidence, the likelihood of a verdict before Election Day is virtually nonexistent. 

By delaying his prosecution on blatantly political grounds, they have engineered the system to assist Trump’s comeback. Compounding the injustice, five of the justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, making the court deeply unrepresentative of the American people. Additionally, three were chosen by Trump himself, adding an obvious bias in his favor. 

The American people deserve to know whether their potential next president is a seditionist who tried to overthrow their democracy. By putting Donald Trump above the law, the Supreme Court has made a mockery of the judicial branch and the noble vision of the founders. This corrupt cabal has disgraced itself and cemented its status as an illegitimate, partisan institution unworthy of respect.

The path ahead for our democracy may be fraught with challenges, with the highest court in the land packed with dishonest justices paid off by billionaire Republican donors. But it is imperative for all citizens who still cherish freedom and embrace the ideals of our founding fathers to resist this slide into authoritarianism. The stakes are simply too high to surrender without a fight.