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Supreme Court opinion season nears climax: 5 major decisions to come

It’s set to be a big week for the Supreme Court.

There are just days left until the justices’ self-imposed deadline to issue opinions by the end of June, but they have yet to rule on 14 cases currently being heard this term.

The remaining decisions of the Supreme Court will have significant implications, most importantly whether former President Trump will be immune from criminal prosecution.

There are plenty of issues remaining, including cases involving defendants from the Jan. 6 attacks, social media regulation and the powers of federal agencies. The Supreme Court is due to release its next set of decisions on Wednesday.

As Supreme Court decision season reaches its peak, here are the five biggest cases yet to be resolved.

President Trump’s immunity claim 

Do former presidents enjoy criminal immunity for their official duties while in the White House? 

Trump has been delaying his criminal trial in Washington, D.C., on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election for months, appealing claims that he is protected by executive immunity.

Lower courts have rejected Trump’s arguments, but the Supreme Court appeared to signal during oral arguments that it was willing to grant former presidents some immunity, though perhaps not as broad as Trump’s lawyers would like.

The ruling would send the immunity fight to a lower court, and whatever the outcome, it would likely help delay the trial until after the election, when Trump is likely to win the presidency and want the prosecution dropped.

Even if the Supreme Court rejects Trump’s immunity theory altogether, it’s unclear whether his case will proceed to trial before November.

With time running out, some observers have criticized the Supreme Court for not speeding up its ruling, even though it had planned to hear Trump’s appeal earlier than would be the case in a normal case.

No decision has been made yet, but the final day for the Supreme Court to deliver its opinion could coincide with the first presidential debate, scheduled for Thursday night.

January 6th: Obstruction charges 

Was the Department of Justice appropriate in indicting more than 300 defendants on January 6th obstruction charges? 

A separate case stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot could impede the Department of Justice’s prosecution of rioters who stormed the Capitol building where the certification of the 2020 presidential election was taking place.

One of the rioters, Joseph Fisher, challenged the obstruction laws used against him and hundreds of others after the attack. Fisher argued that the charges, which criminalize “corruptly” obstructing, impeding, or interfering with an official government proceeding, were improperly applied to the rioters given their origins in the Enron accounting scandal.

The justices appeared wary of the government using the allegations during oral arguments.

A vote in favor of Fischer could overturn the sentences already handed down to many of the rioters, including 50 who were sentenced only on obstruction charges, though most of them also faced other felony charges, according to Attorney General Elizabeth Preloger.

A ruling in favor of the rioters would also lend credence to claims by President Donald Trump and his supporters that the Justice Department overstepped its authority in prosecuting the attack, and President Trump has vowed to consider pardoning some of the rioters.

It could also undermine the Justice Department’s argument that the storming of the Capitol was an attack on American democracy.

Biden’s Social Media Contacts 

Has the Biden Administration violated the Constitution by forcing social media companies to remove false or misleading content? 

A challenge to the Biden administration’s efforts to curb misinformation in the wake of the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic could upend how the federal government communicates with social media platforms about false and misleading content.

The two Republican attorneys general argue that federal authorities violated the First Amendment by “compulsory” social media companies to remove content the government deems potentially dangerous.

The Justice Department has warned that siding with the states could limit states’ ability to address public concerns, prevent national security threats and communicate information, but during oral arguments the court appeared inclined to side with the government.

Florida and Texas Social Media Laws 

Can the government tell social media platforms how to moderate content without violating the First Amendment? 

Laws in Texas and Florida restricting social media bans put the rights of social media companies at risk.

At the heart of each lawsuit is an effort to prevent social media platforms from banning users for their political views, even if they violate the platform’s policies. Tech industry groups and other opponents of these laws argue that they infringe on the First Amendment editorial rights of private companies.

If enacted, the bill could upend online speech by essentially eliminating the unique content moderation decisions that differentiate platforms, chilling competition among small and medium-sized businesses.

Additionally, their reluctance to moderate content on their platforms could lead to an increase in the amount of hateful, inappropriate or false content online.

Federal Agency Powers 

Should courts defer to federal agencies’ reasonable interpretations of ambiguous laws?
 
Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of a Supreme Court case that strengthened the power of federal agencies to regulate broad aspects of American life.

When the justices return to the bench on Wednesday, the Supreme Court may find itself on its deathbed.

This principle, known as Chevron deference, requires that when the interpretation of a federal law is ambiguous, courts will accept a government agency’s reasonable interpretation.

Presidential administrations have used it to enforce regulations on everything from fishing vessels to cryptocurrencies to environmental protections.

Regulatory opponents lament the expansion of the “administrative state” in recent decades and hope that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court will use two current cases to overturn the Chevron decision and restore executive power.

The cases have also attracted attention from advocacy groups that support Chevron and are eager for the judge to not question the legal basis of the government regulations they support.

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