Wednesday, January 10, 2024

#10 / Immunity Rex


Former president Donald J. Trump (pictured) has been charged, in a criminal case filed in the State of Georgia, with various violations of Georgia state law. In essence, the former president has been accused of trying to overturn his 2020 electoral loss, in Georgia, by taking part in a plot to submit false slates of electors. Had Trump been successful, the results of the election, in Georgia, could have been reversed, and this could have meant that the person who actually won the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden, would have been declared the "loser," instead of the "winner," and our former president would still be president. 

The indictment of the former president is ninety-eight pages in length. There are eighteen co-defendants. The charges are based on a decision by a Grand Jury (in other words, a jury made up of ordinary citizens), which handed down the indictment in August 2023. The prosecutor's office has proposed a start date for the trial in August of this year. 

On Monday, Trump's lawyers argued in court that all the charges against him should be dismissed. Their argument on why a dismissal should be granted was not that the charges are groundless. The motions to dismiss the charges are based on a claim that Trump's actions were taken by him as president, and that they are, therefore, "official acts," taken by him while in office, and that a president of the United States is "immune from prosecution" for any "official action" he takes while president. Violating the law, if done by a president as an "official act," cannot be criminal. 

Were that to be the law, our president would not have to follow the laws enacted by representative governmental bodies, because (so Trump claims) presidents can do whatever they want to do (even violate the law) as long as they're the president and are acting as president when they do it. Clicking this link will take you to a report on the issue by historian Heather Cox Richardson. If you click here, you will be able to read a legal analysis by Joyce Vance, who previously served as the United States attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.

You may have heard the claim that the United States has "a government of laws, not of men." This is, in fact, an understanding that goes back to the Founding Fathers, and specifically to John Adams, who was worried about monarchial tendencies reasserting themselves here:

What, according to Adams, were to be the principles at the heart of the American regime? The principles of nature. Adams famously called a republic “a government of laws, not of men.” He was quoting James Harrington. The context is worth noting: “Empire of laws, not of men,” Harrington wrote, is “according to ancient prudence.” In contrast, “modern prudence” counsels that “some man, or some few men, subject a city or a nation, and rule it according to his or their private interest: which, because the laws in such cases are made according to the interest of a man, or of some few families, may be said to be the empire of men, and not of laws.” The empire of laws is concerned with right; the empire of men, with power (emphasis added).

The Constitution, in our system of government, is the supreme law of the land, and that Constitution provides that the powers of the president are summed up by the command, in Article II, Section 3, that he shall "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." The Trump claim, however, is that presidents don't have to follow the laws that other elected officials have to follow. Members of Congress, for instance, or elected officials who serve in the legislatures of the independent states, do have to follow laws that are properly enacted. But not our presidents, says Trump. His claim is that presidents have to be able to take the actions that they, themselves, determine are necessary and proper. When we elect a president we ought to understand that's how it is. 

Trump's claim is that Presidents have "immunity," and if such "immunity" is conceded, our presidents are, effectively, kings. Trump has said that if he is reelected this year, he will be a "dictator for a day." But if Trump's claims in the Georgia case are ever ratified by the Supreme Court of the United States, which gets to have the final word on what our Constitution requires, a president will be a dictator every day.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment!