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Supreme Court: Trump gets substantial immunity

The Supreme Court handed Donald Trump a big win on Monday. In a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, the conservative justices ruled that presidents have absolute immunity for actions related to their core responsibilities while in office. The decision will almost certainly delay the charges brought against the former president in Washington, DC, for allegedly plotting to overthrow the 2020 election.

Trump contends that he is entitled to absolute immunity from the three conspiracy charges and one count of obstructing an official proceeding brought by special counsel Jack Smith. Lower courts rejected the claim, but SCOTUS has ordered them to reassess whether Trump’s alleged action on Jan. 6 “qualifies as official or unofficial,” with the understanding that he would be immune from prosecution for official actions carried out as president.

The rationale: The court’s basic argument was that without these protections, a president would be unable to do his or her unique job independently and effectively, for fear of being prosecuted by political opponents or successors.

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that Monday's immunity decision, "effectively creates a law-free zone around the president, upsetting the status quo that has existed since the founding."

Joe Biden spoke out against the ruling on Monday night, echoing Sotomayor's sentiment that “there are no kings in America,” and said that the ruling means there are “virtually no limits” on presidential power. The president also said that voters deserved to have an answer through the courts before Election Day about what took place on Jan. 6. The court's ruling called for prosecutors to detail their evidence against Trump in front of a federal judge — and the public — at a fact-finding hearing, though it is unclear whether that will take place before Nov. 5.

Trump has prevailed in the court this session. Even before the rulings, the high court’s decision to take up the immunity case worked in Trump’s favor to delay his prosecution until after the November election.

The court also heard two other Trump-related cases this term concerning Jan. 6. The first, an attempt to bar Trump from the ballot in Colorado under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, was unanimously rejected in March. The second ruling limited the use of a federal obstruction law to prosecute rioters who allegedly stormed the Capitol, and it will also affect Trump’s DC indictment because two of the four charges against him are based on that law.

Monday's immunity decision followed a wave of consequential rulings on Friday. Potentially the most impactful, but least flashy, was the Chevron decision, which limits the power of federal agencies and undermines the basis for upholding thousands of regulations by dozens of federal agencies.

In its final decision of the session, the court on Monday also ruled to keep in place a hold on any efforts by Texas and Florida state governments to limit how social media platforms regulate content, ordering the lower courts to review the case again. The court will reconvene in October.

US Supreme Court

Photo by Joshua Woods on Unsplash

SCOTUS throws a bone to Jan. 6 rioters

On Friday, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling that hampers the Justice Department's ability to charge rioters for taking part in Jan. 6 riot on the grounds that they obstructed an official proceeding (the counting of the electoral college votes). The prosecutors were charging the rioters using a statute that forbids tampering with evidence and was enacted in 2002 in regard to the Enron accounting scandal.

In a 6-3 decision along nonideological lines, the court said that prosecutors must prove that defendants attempted to tamper with or destroy documents or “other things used in the proceeding” for the charge to apply.

Federal prosecutors have charged hundreds of Jan. 6 defendants with obstructing an official proceeding, as the Capitol attack aimed to upend Congress’s certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. Former President Donald Trump also faces the charge in his federal Jan. 6 case.

Is this a win for Trump?"It's still unclear how this ruling impacts Trump specifically, but it could overturn many of the prosecutions against Jan. 6 defendants who are not Trump,” says Eurasia Group analyst Noah Daponte-Smith. “Even if the ruling does vacate some of the charges against Trump, it doesn't threaten the main thrust of his trial — he still faces two other charges."

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor makes a point as she answers questions during the third day of her U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill in Washington July 15, 2009.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Sotomayor accuses conservative justices of ‘power grab’

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Thursday did not mince words in a dissenting opinion over the Supreme Court’s ruling that limits the authority of the Securities and Exchange Commission, accusing the conservative majority of making a “power grab” by undermining the enforcement power of federal agencies.

In a 6-3 ruling, the court said the SEC’s in-house tribunals that are overseen by administrative law judges who report to federal agencies — as opposed to federal courts — violated the right to a trial by jury.

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beige concrete building under blue sky during daytime

SCOTUS drops album of consequential decisions

The Supreme Court dropped four significant rulings today on the opioid epidemic, abortions, pollution, and the power of the executive branch.

The justices outlawed a bankruptcy deal the Sackler family made to shield themselves from further lawsuits over their role in the opioid crisis in exchange for giving billions of dollars to victims and their families. The court accused the family of abusing the bankruptcy system, and the decision has implications for similar settlements involving claims of mass injury, including one between the Boy Scouts of America and victims of sexual abuse.

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A herd of cows standing on top of a lush green field.

Hard Numbers: Danes tax cow farts, SCOTUS sides with Biden (on social), Deadly mpox strain hits DRC, China’s lunar probe returns

43: Cow farts can be taxing. Denmark plans to tax farmers for the greenhouse gases emitted by their cows, sheep, and pigs from 2030. The taxes – a world first – aim to reduce Danish greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by targeting a major source of methane emissions. The tax will start at $17 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030 and increase to $43 per ton by 2035.
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Big week for the “Big Lie” in the Supreme Court

In its final week in session, the US Supreme Court will decide two cases involving Donald Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election. Both cases stem from a conspiracy spread by Trump and his allies that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election through voter fraud. This stolen election conspiracy, dubbed the “Big Lie,” has deeply wounded American democracy, and it motivated thousands of Trump’s supporters to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The first case, on presidential immunity, looks at whether former presidents can be criminally prosecuted for actions taken while in office. Trump is using this claim to delay his federal indictment in DC – arguing that presidential immunity prevents him from being prosecuted for his actions on Jan. 6. Special counsel Jack Smith has argued that the broad scope Trump proposes would give presidents a free pass for criminal conduct.

When the court heard the oral arguments in April, they appeared ready to rule that presidents have some degree of immunity, which would further delay the DC case and make it all but guaranteed that it is not decided before November’s election.

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The sun sets at the U.S. Supreme Court building the week that the court is expected to hear arguments in a Mississippi case that challenges Roe v. Wade in Washington, U.S., November 29, 2021.

REUTERS/Leah Millis

Get ready for the SCOTUS deluge

This is the Supreme Court’s last scheduled week for issuing opinions this term — and they have some big questions to decide. At least 14 cases are still outstanding, with big consequences for the election and the US government.

Here are three to watch:

Trump and Jan. 6: Trump claims he is immune from prosecution for virtually any action he took as president, following the argument that Congressional impeachment is the check on his power, not the courts. It’s a very bold claim, one that lower court judges pointed out could mean a president who orders assassinations of his rivals might face no consequences. The court is expected to split a fine hair here, perhaps protecting some forms of conduct but not others.

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The Supreme Court tackles homeless right to sleep outside
The Supreme Court tackles homeless right to sleep outside | GZERO World

The Supreme Court tackles homeless right to sleep outside

Is sleeping like breathing? Do Americans have a Constitutional right to sleep? In April, Supreme Court justices heard a case involving homeless encampments and whether cities that don’t provide shelter space can arrest or fine people for sleeping outside. At oral arguments, they asked philosophical questions about the idea of sleeping and whether or not providing space to sleep qualifies as “cruel and unusual” punishment under the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.

Legal expert Emily Bazelon joins Ian Bremmer on GZERO World to unpack some of the biggest cases before the Supreme Court this year. Former President Trump’s legal woes are front and center in the news, but many other major issues are at stake during this court term, including homelessness, gun rights, free speech on social media, and the power of federal agencies to interpret laws.

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