Supreme Court to Hear Trump’s Claim to ‘Absolute Immunity’

The Supreme Court, in its last argument of the term, will consider on Thursday whether former President Donald J. Trump must face trial on charges that he plotted to subvert the 2020 election.

The court’s answer to that question will be a major statement on the scope of presidential power. Depending on its timing and content, the decision will also help determine whether Mr. Trump’s trial will start before the election, in time to let both jurors and voters evaluate the evidence that Jack Smith, the special counsel in the case, seeks to present.

Most legal experts do not expect Mr. Trump to prevail on his broadest arguments. But when and how he loses may turn out to be as important as whether he loses.

Even if the court acts with considerable speed and definitively rules against Mr. Trump within a month, the trial would most likely not start until at least the fall, well into the heart of the presidential campaign. If the court does not rule until late June or returns the case to the lower courts for further consideration of the scope of any immunity, the trial might not take place until after the election.

If Mr. Trump prevails in the election, he could order the Justice Department to drop the charges.

Mr. Trump is accused of a sprawling effort to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election, including by seeking to recruit bogus slates of electors in a bid to alter vote counts and pressuring an array of officials, like Vice President Mike Pence, to subvert the results. Mr. Trump faces a count of conspiring to defraud the government, another of conspiring to disenfranchise voters and two counts related to corruptly obstructing a congressional proceeding.

The case before the court involves just one of four sets of pending criminal charges against Mr. Trump, including those at issue in a trial underway in state court in Manhattan over accusations of hush-money payments meant to skew the 2016 election. Whatever happens after Thursday’s argument, the 2024 election will take place in the shadow of the criminal justice system.

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