Tuesday, April 23, 2024

What happens if Donald Trump is elected from prison?

According to The New York Times, “We’re so far removed from anything that’s ever happened,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law expert at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s just guessing.”

Legally, Mr. Trump would remain eligible to be president even if he were imprisoned. The Constitution says nothing to the contrary. “I don’t think that the framers ever thought we were going to be in this situation,” Professor Levinson said.

In practice, the election of an incarcerated president would create a legal crisis that would almost certainly need to be resolved by the courts.

In theory, Mr. Trump could be stripped of his authority under the 25th Amendment, which provides a process to transfer authority to the vice president if the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” But that would require the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to declare Mr. Trump unable to fulfill his duties, a remote prospect given that these would be loyalists appointed by Mr. Trump himself.

More likely, Mr. Trump could sue to be released on the basis that his imprisonment was preventing him from fulfilling his constitutional obligations as president. Such a case would probably focus on the separation of powers, with Mr. Trump’s lawyers arguing that keeping a duly elected president in prison would be an infringement by the judicial branch on the operations of the executive branch.

On the federal charges only, he could also try to pardon himself — or to commute his sentence, leaving his conviction in place but ending his imprisonment. Either action would be an extraordinary assertion of presidential power, and the Supreme Court would be the final arbiter of whether a “self pardon” was constitutional.

Or President Biden, on his way out the door, could pardon Mr. Trump on the basis that “the people have spoken and I need to pardon him so he can govern,” Professor Chemerinsky said.

But that wouldn’t apply to the New York or Georgia cases, because the president does not have pardon power for state charges.

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