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

The Supreme Court is set for an enormous week.

With just days left until the justices’ self-imposed deadline of finishing their opinions by the end of June, they have yet to release decisions in 14 argued cases this term.

The court’s remaining opinions are set to have profound impacts, but chief among them is a decision on whether former President Trump has immunity from criminal prosecution.

Cases implicating Jan. 6 defendants, social media regulation and the power of federal agencies are among the litany of issues that remain. The court expects to release the next batch of opinions Wednesday.

Here are the five biggest decisions still unresolved as the Supreme Court’s opinion season reaches its peak.

Trump’s immunity claims 

Do former presidents have criminal immunity for official acts while in the White House?

For months, Trump has delayed his criminal trial in Washington, D.C., on charges he conspired to subvert the 2020 election by appealing his claims that he is protected by presidential immunity.

Lower courts have rejected his assertion, but the Supreme Court at oral arguments appeared inclined to carve out some immunity for former presidents, though perhaps a shield less extensive than Trump’s lawyers desire.

That outcome would send the immunity battle back to a lower court. No matter how it shakes out, it would likely aid Trump in delaying his trial until after the election, when he hopes to win the presidency and halt his prosecutions.

Even if the justices completely reject Trump’s presidential immunity theory, it remains unclear if his case will proceed to trial before November.

With the clock ticking, some observers have criticized the justices for not further expediting their decision, though the court did schedule Trump’s appeal faster than a normal case.

With no decision yet, the court’s final potential days of opinions overlap with the first presidential debate, scheduled for Thursday night.

Jan. 6 obstruction charge

Was the Justice Department proper in charging more than 300 Jan. 6 defendants with an obstruction charge?

Another case stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot stands to disrupt the Justice Department’s prosecution of rioters who stormed the Capitol where the certification of the 2020 presidential election was underway.

One rioter, Joseph Fischer, challenged an obstruction law used against him and hundreds of others in the attack’s aftermath. Fischer argued that the charge — which criminalizes “corruptly” obstructing, impeding or interfering with an official government proceeding — was improperly applied to the rioters given its origin: the Enron accounting scandal.

The justices appeared wary of the government’s use of the charge during oral arguments.

Siding with Fischer could upend many rioters’ already established sentences. Though most also faced other felony counts, 50 rioters were sentenced with the obstruction law as their only felony, according to U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar.

A ruling in favor of the rioters could also lend credence to claims by Trump and his allies that the Justice Department overreached in its prosecution of the attack. Trump has vowed to consider pardoning some rioters.

And, it could undermine the Justice Department’s narrative that the Capitol riot was an attack on American democracy.

Biden social media contacts

Did the Biden administration coerce social media companies to remove false or misleading content in violation of the Constitution?

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

Two Republican attorneys general contend that federal officials violated the First Amendment by “coercing” social media companies to remove content that the government deemed potentially dangerous.

The Justice Department has warned that, if the justices side with the states, it could limit their ability to address matters of public concern, prevent national security threats and relay information. But during oral arguments, the high court seemed to lean toward siding with the government.

Florida, Texas social media laws

Can the government tell social media platforms how to moderate content without running afoul of the First Amendment?

Laws in Texas and Florida regulating social media bans have placed the rights of social media companies on the line.

At the heart of each case are efforts to prevent social media platforms from banning users for their political views, even if they violated platform policies. Detractors of the laws, like the tech industry groups challenging them, say they step on private companies’ First Amendment right to editorial discretion.

If allowed to stand, the laws would transform online speech by essentially eliminating unique content moderation decisions that set platforms apart, potentially chilling competition between small- and medium-sized companies.

It could also increase the amount of hateful, inappropriate or incorrect content online, over hesitance to moderate material on their platforms.

Federal agency power

Should courts defer to a federal agency’s reasonable interpretation of ambiguous laws?
On Tuesday, a Supreme Court precedent bolstering federal agencies’ ability to regulate wide aspects of American life will mark its 40th anniversary.

When the justices return to the bench Wednesday, they may put it on its death bed.

The doctrine, known as Chevron deference, requires courts to accept agencies’ reasonable interpretations of federal laws when they are ambiguous.

Presidential administrations have invoked it to uphold regulations from those on fishing boats to cryptocurrency to environmental protections.

Antiregulatory interests, who deplore the growth of the “administrative state” in recent decades, are hoping the conservative-leaning Supreme Court will use two of its current cases to claw back the executive branch’s power by overruling Chevron.

The cases have also attracted attention from advocacy groups on many issues who support Chevron and anxiously hope the justices will not question the legal basis for their favored government regulations.

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