The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals faces an important question: As a former U.S. president, is Donald Trump immune from criminal prosecution?
It’s been over three weeks since judges heard arguments, and still no ruling.
The immunity question is part of a larger federal case, accusing Trump of attempting to overturn the 2020 election results. His legal team maintains a President is immune from criminal prosecution for any official acts taken while in office.
The presiding district judge on the case rejected that argument, so Trump’s team appealed it to the D.C. Circuit Court.
“Could a President order S.E.A.L Team Six to assassinate a political rival? That’s an official act. An order to S.E.A.L Team Six,” questioned Judge Florence Pan during the appeals hearing a few weeks ago.
Trump’s attorney, D. John Sauer, pushed back, saying, “He would have to be, and speedily be, impeached before a criminal prosecution.”
While the appeals court judges seemed skeptical of this stance, Trump is buckling down as they continue deliberations.
In a post on his social media platform, Truth Social, the former president wrote in part, “Even events that ‘cross the line,’ must fall under total immunity, or it will be years of trauma trying to determine good from bad.”
This interpretation has led to various reactions. Political theorist Dr. Paul Miller with Georgetown University, says a willingness to hold former office-holders accountable is vital to sustaining democracy.
“As Christians, we understand that the human heart is sinful, that we are tempted, particularly when there’s no one watching, or there’s no one to hold us accountable. And if you have a leader, with the awesome powers of the presidency, and they are not accountable, to law, to the voter to anything, I can guarantee you that sooner or later somebody will abuse that power and use it in terrible ways,” Dr. Miller told CBN News.
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Still, legal experts admit the Constitution appears unclear on the topic.
“The Constitution doesn’t really provide for immunity one way or the other. The Supreme Court has recognized in a case called Nixon v. Fitzgerald in 1982, that presidents can be immune from civil lawsuits, so long as their actions fit within the ‘outer perimeter’ of their official duties. And that has been largely assumed that it applies to criminal prosecution,” explained John Malcolm, vice president for The Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government.
Malcolm says both sides testifying before the D.C. Circuit Court presented worst-case scenarios of a ruling not in their favor.
“There will be bedlam in the country. It’s a very bad thing a very bad precedent. It’s the opening of a pandora’s box,” Trump said in a recorded statement.
“A President sells a pardon, resigns, or is not impeached, not a crime. I think that is an extraordinarily frightening future,” said James Pearce, assistant to the Special Counsel, during the appeals hearing.
While a decision from the D.C. Circuit Court could come at any time, the case will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by whichever side loses.
All trial deadlines for the larger criminal case have been suspended while it remains on appeal.
This delay could work in Trump’s favor, with one school of thought being, that if Trump were to win the election before any federal convictions, he could order the Justice Department to drop all cases against him, or even pardon himself.