Here is some of the legal news making the headlines this week:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that former presidents, including Donald Trump, are not absolutely immune from criminal prosecution.
- Trump raised this absolute immunity defense in a motion to dismiss the criminal charges against him brought by special counsel Jack Smith in the federal election subversion prosecution. The appeal arrived at the circuit court after District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled against Trump. The circuit court panel included Judge Karen Henderson (appointed by President George H. W. Bush) and Judges Florence Pan and J. Michelle Childs (both appointed by President Joe Biden). Trump is next expected to appeal to the Supreme Court.
- In the opinion, the unanimous circuit court panel wrote, “For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.”
- The judges rejected Trump’s separation of powers and double jeopardy arguments, as well as Trump’s claim that the specter of criminal prosecution would chill a president’s ability to carry out the duties of the office. The panel wrote, “The interest in criminal accountability, held by both the public and the Executive Branch, outweighs the potential risks of chilling Presidential action and permitting vexatious litigation.” The judges continued, “The Executive Branch’s interest in upholding Presidential elections and vesting power in a new President under the Constitution and the voters’ interest in democratically selecting their President…compel the conclusion that former President Trump is not immune from prosecution under the Indictment.”
The Supreme Court rejected a request from conservative student group, Students for Fair Admissions, to bar military academies from considering race in admissions.
- The dispute stems from a lawsuit brought by Students for Fair Admissions alleging that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point’s consideration of race in admissions is unconstitutional. It follows the Supreme Court’s decision last June, in a case brought by the same student group, that affirmative action in college admissions violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. In that case, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, specified that the decision did not apply to military academies “in light of the potentially distinct interests that military academies may present.”
- The student group has now asked the Court to not only extend its affirmative action ruling to military academies, but also preliminarily bar West Point from considering race in admissions while litigation continues. In its petition to the Court, the group wrote, “Every year this case languishes in discovery, trial, or appeals, West Point will label and sort thousands more applicants based on their skin color.”
- The Supreme Court rejected the group’s request, declining to intervene in the matter–for now. In a brief order, the justices wrote, “The record before this Court is underdeveloped.” The justices also emphasized that litigation on the matter is ongoing, and the issue could be reviewed in the future, writing, “This order should not be construed as expressing any view on the merits of the constitutional question.”
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