This Whole King Trump Thing Is Getting Awfully Literal

Donald Trump’s claim that he has absolute immunity for criminal acts taken in office as president is an insult to reason, an assault on common sense and a perversion of the fundamental maxim of American democracy: that no man is above the law.

More astonishing than the former president’s claim to immunity, however, is the fact that the Supreme Court took the case in the first place. It’s not just that there’s an obvious response — no, the president is not immune to criminal prosecution for illegal actions committed with the imprimatur of executive power, whether private or “official” (a distinction that does not exist in the Constitution) — but that the court has delayed, perhaps indefinitely, the former president’s reckoning with the criminal legal system of the United States.

In delaying the trial, the Supreme Court may well have denied the public its right to know whether a former president, now vying to be the next president, is guilty of trying to subvert the sacred process of presidential succession: the peaceful transfer of power from one faction to another that is the essence of representative democracy. It is a process so vital, and so precious, that its first occurrence — with the defeat of John Adams and the Federalists at the hands of Thomas Jefferson’s Republicans in the 1800 presidential election — marks a second sort of American Revolution.

Whether motivated by sincere belief or partisanship or a myopic desire to weigh in on a case involving the former president, the Supreme Court has directly intervened in the 2024 presidential election in a way that deprives the electorate of critical information or gives it less time to grapple with what might happen in a federal courtroom. And if the trial occurs after an election in which Trump wins a second term and he is convicted, then the court will have teed the nation up for an acute constitutional crisis. A president, for the first time in the nation’s history, might try to pardon himself for his own criminal behavior.

In other words, however the court Supreme Court rules, it has egregiously abused its power.

It is difficult to overstate the radical contempt for Republican government embodied in the former president’s notion that he can break the law without consequence or sanction on the grounds that he must have that right as chief executive. As Trump sees it, the president is sovereign, not the people. In his grotesque vision of executive power, the president is a king, unbound by law, chained only to the limits of his will.

This is nonsense. In a detailed amicus brief submitted in support of the government in Trump v. United States, 15 leading historians of the early American republic show the extent to which the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution rejected the idea of presidential immunity for crimes committed in office.

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