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Front Page Talking Points


Tricky balance: Supreme Court tries to keep law and politics separate this election year


1.gifSummarize coverage of a different legal case or issue.

2.gifRead an editorial, other commentary or reader letter about the top court. Why do you agree or differ with a main point?

3.gifList two facts from other Washington, D.C., news.

Our country's nine highest justices say Supreme Court decisions are based solely on how they interpret the Constitution, not on political factors. That can be a tense tightrope this year, with several cases involving Donald Trump, the pending Republican Party nominee for president (an office he held from 2017-2021).

Recent "rulings suggest that the justices are trying to find consensus and avoid politics," writes court reporter Adam Liptak of The New York Times. The court, which has three Trump appointees, voted 9-0 this month to let him stay on ballots nationwide despite a constitutional provision that bars insurrectionists from office. The court will hear arguments the week of April 22 on Trump's position that he's immune from prosecution on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election. A federal appeals court voted 3-0 in February against the immunity claim, and federal prosecutor Jack Smith asked the Supreme Court to hear the case in March. Now, if the justices let the trial proceed it could be delayed until fall and may not finish until after voters cast ballots Nov. 5. "The court has given Trump the delay he sought,” says law professor Melissa Murray of New York University.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, selected by Trump in 2020, reflected on the court's role during a forum on civics education two weeks ago at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "If you want to know what's going on in America, then you can look at our docket [of cases] and you can see some of the battles that are being waged through litigation are often reflective of the battles that are being waged in the society at large." She spoke alongside Justice Sonia Sotomayor, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009. In their private discussions of cases, Sotomayor said, the justices try "to manage emotion without losing respect for one another and without losing an understanding that each of us is acting in good faith." Despite the civility goal, she added, "occasionally someone might come close to something that could be viewed as hurtful." Barrett agreed in a rare hint of behind-scenes tension: "Sometimes we do need to apologize because we are human."

Justice Department says: "No immunity attaches to a president's commission of federal crimes to subvert the electoral process." – Jack Smith, special counsel appointed by the attorney general

Scholar says: "Everyone on the court is acting in good faith and thinks they are being nonpolitical and doing the right thing. . . . But these cases involving or implicating Trump invariably have a huge impact on presidential politics." – Jack Goldsmith, Harvard University law professor

Journalist says: "The Supreme Court has tried to put some distance between itself and politics. That fragile project does not seem to be succeeding." – Adam Liptak, The New York Times

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2024

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.