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A Ruling for Trump on Eligibility Could Doom His Bid for Immunity

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Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court aim to present a unified and apolitical front to rebuild the court’s reputation, which has been marred by recent controversies and ethics scandals.

The justices’ questions during arguments suggest a likely ruling in favor of Donald Trump’s eligibility to remain on the primary ballot in Colorado and other states.

“The Supreme Court unanimously, or nearly so, holds that Colorado does not have the power to remove Donald Trump from the ballot, but in a separate case it rejects his immunity argument and makes Trump go on trial this spring or summer on federal election subversion charges,” UCLA law professor Richard L. Hasen wrote.

However, to maintain a perception of evenhanded nonpartisanship, the court may need to rule against Trump in a separate case involving his claim of absolute immunity.

Legal experts anticipate a potential “grand bargain” scenario, where the court rules in favor of Trump’s ballot eligibility but rejects his immunity argument, allowing him to face federal election subversion charges.

“He seems likely to prevail if for no other reason than that the grab bag of reasons offered something for just about every justice,” Cornell law professor Michael Dorf said.

“The challenge for Chief Justice Roberts and whomever he assigns the opinion will be finding a rationale that can garner five or more votes,” he said. “In recent cases, Roberts has sometimes had difficulty reining in the five justices to his right. Here, there will likely be something closer to consensus.”

“History tells us that the Supreme Court does better with the public — in other words, is seen as more legitimate — when it does not rule repeatedly just for ‘one side’ of the political aisle,” law professor Tara Leigh Grove said. “So I anticipate that the justices will welcome a kind of ‘split decision’ in these cases. That is, the court can rule that President Trump remains on the ballot, and yet has no immunity from federal criminal prosecution.”

The case’s outcome may impact the court’s public legitimacy, with some experts expressing concerns about the potential rationale for the decision.

“Unfortunately, it seems the justices may be coalescing around some analytically weak arguments as a way of disposing of this case in a way they think will avoid expending the court’s scarce political capital,” law professor Vikram Amar said.

“There’s no logical connection between the issues in this case and those in the immunity case,” he said, “but a cynic might say ruling for Trump here frees up the court to rule against him there.”

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