For a body supposedly intellectually and spiritually divorced from the rest of us plebs, the Supreme Court sure sounded Thursday like it’d sauntered into arguments over Donald Trump’s disqualification having absorbed the conventional wisdom and determined to rule that way.
Much of the chattering class had landed against disqualifying Trump for a largely political reason: It feels uncomfortable and undemocratic to boot the almost-certain nominee for one of two parties off the ballot.
Experts of the disqualification clause have long held that, putting aside the squicky feelings, it’s an open-and-shut case, that Trump’s goading on of the mob leading up to Jan. 6 and on the day itself precluded him from running for office again.
But the justices weren’t interested. They spent most of the arguments trying to find a pseudo-legal way to justify this end point, most expressing enthusiasm in the hastily pulled-together idea that states can’t disqualify a federal candidate. This “they” included Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson full-throatedly and Justice Elena Kagan a bit more mildly. Justice Sonia Sotomayor seems to be the only real question mark.
Details of what happened on Jan. 6 and Trump’s role in it were completely absent from the proceedings — helping the justices and Trump’s lawyer keep the discussion in the land of abstraction, far away from the injuries and deaths his supporters caused that day.
Most thought this case was almost certain to go Trump’s way, if not that the liberals would be so eager to get it there.
I’m most interested to see what happens next with the immunity case. If the conservatives want a unanimous opinion here — both to cover their partisan inclinations and lend the case gravitas — the liberals should demand a favor in return. Again, almost everyone expects even this Court to find against Trump’s immunity arguments, which are as silly as they are self-serving. But even if the Court does so, the speed at which it does it is nearly as important as the decision itself.
If it slow-walks the case, it gives Trump a win by another name, helping him push the Jan. 6 case past the 2024 election.
If (best) the Court quickly decides not to take up the case, to let the D.C. Circuit decision stand, or (fine) takes up the case and dispenses of it quickly, like it’s doing with the disqualification one, it’ll show that it takes anti-Trump cases as seriously as it does pro-Trump ones.
These right-wing justices are unlikely to be moved by that motivation alone. If they want a compelling or unanimous majority on the disqualification case, liberals should demand the trade.