What Is Next for America After Trump v. United States?

4 Jul 2024

Trump v. United States Court Filing, retrieved on July 1, 2024, is part of HackerNoon’s Legal PDF Series. You can jump to any part in this filing here. This part is 21 of 21.


To the extent that the majority’s new accountability paradigm allows Presidents to evade punishment for their criminal acts while in office, the seeds of absolute power for Presidents have been planted. And, without a doubt, absolute power corrupts absolutely. “If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny.” Id., at 312. Likewise, “[i]f the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” Olmstead, 277 U. S., at 485 (Brandeis, J., dissenting). I worry that, after today’s ruling, our Nation will reap what this Court has sown.

Stated simply: The Court has now declared for the first time in history that the most powerful official in the United States can (under circumstances yet to be fully determined) become a law unto himself. As we enter this uncharted territory, the People, in their wisdom, will need to remain ever attentive, consistently fulfilling their established role in our constitutional democracy, and thus collectively serving as the ultimate safeguard against any chaos spawned by this Court’s decision. For, like our democracy, our Constitution is “the creature of their will, and lives only by their will.” Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 389 (1821).

For my part, I simply cannot abide the majority’s senseless discarding of a model of accountability for criminal acts that treats every citizen of this country as being equally subject to the law—as the Rule of Law requires. That core principle has long prevented our Nation from devolving into despotism. Yet the Court now opts to let down the guardrails of the law for one extremely powerful category of citizen: any future President who has the will to flout Congress’s established boundaries.

In short, America has traditionally relied on the law to keep its Presidents in line. Starting today, however, Americans must rely on the courts to determine when (if at all) the criminal laws that their representatives have enacted to promote individual and collective security will operate as speedbumps to Presidential action or reaction.

Once self-regulating, the Rule of Law now becomes the rule of judges, with courts pronouncing which crimes committed by a President have to be let go and which can be redressed as impermissible. So, ultimately, this Court itself will decide whether the law will be any barrier to whatever course of criminality emanates from the Oval Office in the future. The potential for great harm to American institutions and Americans themselves is obvious.

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The majority of my colleagues seems to have put their trust in our Court’s ability to prevent Presidents from becoming Kings through case-by-case application of the indeterminate standards of their new Presidential accountability paradigm. I fear that they are wrong. But, for all our sakes, I hope that they are right.

In the meantime, because the risks (and power) the Court has now assumed are intolerable, unwarranted, and plainly antithetical to bedrock constitutional norms, I dissent.

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This court case retrieved on July 1, 2024, supremecourt.gov is part of the public domain. The court-created documents are works of the federal government, and under copyright law, are automatically placed in the public domain and may be shared without legal restriction.