SCOTUS decision on Trump ballot may reveal how court will rule on his presidential immunity case

"I'm hoping the Supreme Court will write a narrow decision granting some immunity but not nearly as much as Trump asked for," Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said.
Protesters demonstrate outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on February 8, 2024 in Washington, DC.

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of former President Donald Trump in the Colorado ballot case, legal experts disagree on how his immunity case may be decided by the court later this year, ranging to a ruling in his favor to completely ruling against him.

After the Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Monday that Trump can remain on the 2024 presidential ballot in Colorado, legal experts turned to debating the question of how the justices will rule on his presidential immunity case in light of this latest decision.

The decision struck down the Colorado Supreme Court ruling that found Trump ineligible for the ballot due to Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which contains a clause banning people who "engaged in insurrection" from holding office. The state high court said he violated the amendment through his alleged involvement in attempts to overturn the 2020 election and the subsequent Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

The Supreme Court held that the "responsibility for enforcing" the 14th Amendment's insurrection clause "against federal officeholders and candidates rests with Congress and not the States." 

The court said that "the text of the Fourteenth Amendment, on its face, does not affirmatively delegate such a power to the States.” If states were allowed to determine which candidates were eligible for the ballot, it could result in a candidate being "declared ineligible in some States, but not others, based on the same conduct," the per curiam decision said.

"The disruption would be all the more acute" if a candidate were found ineligible after people had voted in the election, they also said. "Nothing in the Constitution requires that we endure such chaos." This decision comes before the high court will hear and rule on a presidential immunity case regarding Trump.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments over Trump's immunity claims in special counsel Jack Smith's D.C. election case.

The case is currently on hold and the Supreme Court's decision maintains the status quo in that respect, but set oral arguments for April 22, Politico reported.

Trump has argued he is immune from prosecution on grounds of presidential immunity. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, rejected those claims, prompting Trump to appeal her decision. Smith had sought intervention by the Supreme Court at the time, though it declined to rule ahead of the appellate court.

three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia then ruled against Trump, after which he asked the Supreme Court to stay that decision.

The decision to hear the matter, however, came at the urging of Smith, The Hill reported.

Smith indicted Trump last August on charges of conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of, and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Initially set for March 4, Chutkan officially postponed the trial earlier last month until the immunity matter is settled. She paused the case in December after Trump filed his initial appeal.

Since the Supreme Court has yet to hear arguments for the presidential immunity case, it is unclear as to how they may approach it. However, Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz said that the court may rule narrowly in Trump’s favor.

Dershowitz told the "Just the News, No Noise" TV show on Monday that the U.S. Supreme Court “will not rule completely in Trump's favor. They will not rule that his broad perception of immunity — you can order the SEALs to kill your opponent and you'll be immune unless you're impeached — they're not going to rule in favor of that."

Dershowitz pondered aloud: “The question is, will they rule completely on the other side? Or will they say, ‘Look, there is a narrow amount of immunity’?” He argued that there “has to be some immunity, and it has to not end at the time of the presidency, it has to continue. 

“So I'm hoping the Supreme Court will write a narrow decision granting some immunity but not nearly as much as Trump asked for. I can't predict how the case will come out, but I do hope it would come out in that nuanced way rather than giving a victory — a total victory to either side,” Dershowitz explained.

Contrarily, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said that the court may completely decide against Trump.

Perry told the "John Solomon Reports" podcast on Monday, “My concern is, is that the court has given us an overwhelming victory on this, and maybe giving them some space to find on behalf of the other side.”

“To think that the court isn't swayed by political opinion and national sentiment is to not live in the world today," he continued. "And my concern is, is that they won't want to give what would be seen as two overarching victories to former President Trump, and so that they'll try and find some way to ameliorate the left. There’s no reason to ameliorate the left.”

Perry said that the court should simply “look at the Constitution” and ask if it’s incorrect to decide against presidential immunity.

“It's obviously the incorrect thing,” he argued. “It would turn everything completely upside down and turn us into quite literally a political third-world country where everybody that serves in the presidency then looks forward to going to jail right after they leave office.

“It's absurd on its face, but I do have concerns that the court will try and find some temperate middle in this, where there isn't some temperate middle,” Perry said.

However, Will Trachman, general counsel for Mountain States Legal Foundation, took an opposite view of Perry's in terms of how the court will decide the case.

Trachman told the "John Solomon Reports" podcast on Monday, “I don't know how the court is gonna rule on the immunity case. You know, I've seen some people say, ‘Oh, now that they've ruled in favor of Trump, nine to zero, that gives them the credibility that they need to reject his immunity claim.’ And I just don't buy that. I think they're going to take each case as it is before them. I think it's very hard to argue that a sitting president who does several things in his official capacity as president can be criminally liable.”

“In some way, the logic can be a little bit similar to the case that was decided today,” Trachman explained. “Because the idea is, if you accepted this premise, wouldn't it lead to chaos? And that's going to be true also in the immunity case, because you can imagine the Trump administration if they come back to power come January, prosecuting Joe Biden. Suppose there's a crime for which there's no statute of limitations? Why not President Obama? Why not President Clinton?”

“So I just suspect that the court is going to come to this case, again, wondering, ‘If we say yes this time, where does that lead us in terms of precedent?’” he added.