The Supreme Court still has much more than Trump’s immunity claim to resolve

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Timing is a crucial factor in Donald Trump’s federal election interference case. So now that his Supreme Court immunity appeal has been argued, a big question is: When is the opinion, which is standing in the way of a trial, coming?

The court doesn’t announce ahead of time when specific opinions will be issued. But we can read the tea leaves in the context of the justices’ usual practice. The bottom line is that, while the court could always surprise us, little about its treatment of the appeal so far points to a speedy ruling.

For starters, let’s look at where we are in the court’s term. Trump v. United States was the final hearing, meaning the justices are now focused on writing the remaining opinions in cases argued since October. In thinking about the timing of the immunity decision, then, consider that there is much, much more to be decided besides that important case. Among others, the justices are crafting pivotal rulings on guns, abortion, gerrymandering and appeals striking at the core of how government functions.

So it’s a monumental term even if you don’t consider Trump, notwithstanding the Supreme Court as a motivating factor for his 2016 election and his resultant three appointments — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Indeed, another of the court’s important cases this term that doesn’t directly involve Trump also will affect him — namely Fischer v. United States, the appeal from an alleged Jan. 6 rioter that challenges one of the statutes Trump is charged with in his Jan. 6-related case. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee has pleaded not guilty in all four of his criminal cases, one of which is on trial in New York.

Typically, the Supreme Court wraps up its decisions by the end of June, which is why some of the most contentious and historic ones come then. That isn’t an official deadline, because the current term technically runs through the beginning of the next one in October. But late June is a fair deadline to keep in mind and is likely what the justices are aiming for with all their rulings.

Given the other pivotal cases on deck, it may be more of a question of how the justices prioritize the Trump immunity ruling against their other work. Viewed that way, the prospect of a quick ruling is a mixed bag, at best. On the one hand, the justices could have punted consideration of the case into next term when they took it up in February. But their scheduling of the argument was only so expedited, because they put the case on for literally the last hearing day of the term. Plus, the hearing itself displayed differences of opinion among the justices over how to sort out the case, suggesting that it won’t be easy to do so quickly, even if that’s what the court as a whole wanted to do.

All of this points toward a ruling in Trump’s immunity case coming around that crush of crucial decisions in late June. Depending on what that ruling says exactly, it may be too late for the Jan. 6-related case to get to trial before the election (if Trump wins that election, he could kill the case in which he is alleged to have unlawfully tried to overturn the last presidential election).

The court could always surprise us with a sooner decision than that. But it hasn’t given us much reason to expect one. In any event, don't be surprised to see those other rulings come first.

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