Guide to Understanding Supreme Court Arguments on Donald Trump and Presidential Immunity

Guide to Understanding Supreme Court Arguments on Donald Trump and Presidential Immunity

Guide to Understanding Supreme Court Arguments on Donald Trump and Presidential Immunity

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

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

But between a decades-old court case about Richard Nixon, and an obscure constitutional provision about presidential impeachments, there are likely to be some unfamiliar concepts and terms thrown about.

Here are some tips to help follow 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 vs. United States of America, as the case is called.

The session easily could last two hours or more.

There are no cameras in the courtroom, but since the pandemic the court has livestreamed its argument sessions. Listen live on or the court’s website at C-SPAN also will carry the arguments at

Expect to hear talk about the impeachment process and the relationship, if any, to criminal prosecution.

Central to Trump’s immunity argument is the claim that only a former president who was impeached and convicted by the Senate can be criminally prosecuted.

Trump’s lawyers cite as backup for their argument a provision of the Constitution known as the Impeachment Judgment Clause that says an officeholder convicted by the Senate shall nevertheless be “liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment” in court.

Prosecutors say the Trump team is misreading the clause and that conviction in the Senate is not a prerequisite for a courtroom prosecution.

There’s going to be plentiful discussion about Nixon but not necessarily for the reasons one might think.

Trump’s team has repeatedly drawn attention to a 1982 case, Nixon v. Fitzgerald, in which the Supreme Court held that a former president cannot be sued in civil cases for their actions while in office.

Already, Trump’s lawyers have warned that if the prosecution is permitted to go forward, it would open the floodgates to criminal charges against other presidents.

The justices are known to love presenting hypothetical scenarios to lawyers as a way of testing the outer limits of their arguments.

Look for Smith’s team to try to draw a sharp distinction between acts that it says are quintessential exercises of presidential power — such as ordering a drone strike during war — to the acts that Trump is accused of in this case.

Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.



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