Analysis-Trump legal clashes reach US Supreme Court as 2024 election nears

By John Kruzel and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump transformed the U.S. Supreme Court during his four years as president. Now the 6-3 conservative majority he cemented will confront a handful of cases that may determine whether the Republican can reclaim the White House.

The court is poised to play an outsized role in the 2024 presidential election by hearing disputes over Trump’s role in the run-up to a Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol in which his supporters tried to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory.

The politically explosive cases have the potential to once again thrust the country’s highest court into the election limelight almost a quarter-century after its fateful 2000 ruling effectively handed the White House to Republican George W. Bush.

“What is extraordinary this year is that the court might have a huge effect before the election, especially in determining whether Donald Trump can be on the ballot and whether the federal criminal prosecution of him can go forward,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Berkeley Law School.

The justices generally avoid public comment on cases or political matters outside of their actual rulings, although the conservative majority has increasingly moved American law to the right, handing conservatives wins on abortion, guns and affirmative action since 2022.

Trump has vowed to appeal a Tuesday ruling by Colorado’s top court disqualifying him from appearing on the state’s primary ballot, which if taken up by the justices would be a landmark case in the broader effort to disqualify Trump from state ballots in the Nov. 5 election.

A database of the legal analysis blog Lawfare maintains that Colorado so far is the only state to disqualify Trump from its ballot out of 32 states where Trump’s eligibility has been challenged under Section 3 of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution which bars anyone engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” from holding federal office.

The amendment was ratified in the aftermath of the American Civil War of 1861-1865, and lower-court judges have questioned whether the measure applies to presidential candidates.

How the Supreme Court handles Trump’s appeal in the Colorado case could determine whether similar efforts will succeed or fail in states across the country. Most have fallen short, but lawyers have asked the Michigan supreme court to review a case brought there.

Unlike solidly Democratic Colorado, Michigan is highly competitive politically and seen as one of seven states likely to play a decisive role in the 2024 election.

Leah Litman, a University of Michigan law professor, said the Colorado case and other Trump disputes before the justices “have enormous stakes for democracy.”

“They’re poised to decide whether federal law does impose penalties, and can impose penalties, on people including former presidents who interfere with the peaceful transition of power,” she said.


The court has also been pulled into the criminal prosecutions facing the former president.

Special Counsel Jack Smith urged the justices to rule on Trump’s claim that he cannot be prosecuted for trying to overturn his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden. Trump’s immunity bid was rejected by a federal judge, prompting Smith to ask the justices to decide the issue even before a lower appeals court rules on it – an extraordinary request that Trump urged the court to reject.

The justices have also agreed to decide whether a man involved in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol can be charged with obstructing an official proceeding, a case with potential implications for the prosecution of Trump, who faces the same charge.

Trump’s lawyers have also signaled that he may soon ask the justices to intervene in a defamation lawsuit by writer E. Jean Carroll, who publicly accused him of rape, after a lower court rejected his bid to assert presidential immunity.

The former president faces four criminal prosecutions, including Smith’s four-count indictment accusing Trump and his allies of promoting false claims that the election was rigged, pressuring officials to alter voting results and assembling fake slates of electors to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory. Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four cases.

Despite its conservative bent, the Supreme Court rebuffed efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn Biden’s 2020 win.

Stanford Law School professor Michael McConnell, a former federal appeals court judge, said he doesn’t expect Trump’s appointees to do him any favors this time either, even though the issues are more difficult than the post-election cases.

“Trump’s legal position is far from frivolous,” he said. “Nonetheless, it is likely that justices appointed by Trump will bend over backwards to avoid any appearance of pro-Trump bias.”

(Reporting by John Kruzel in Washington and Andrew Chung in New York, additional reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)