Presidential immunity necessary to protect democracy, Newsweek opinion column says

By Jen Krausz on
 April 29, 2024

Newsweek used to be known as a leftist publication, but recently it has seemed to move more toward the center to cover both sides of the political aisle in a neutral way, with a fairness meter on all of its news stories.

In an opinion piece published as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about whether former President Donald Trump was immune from prosecution for acts while he was president, former Deputy Attorney General of Ohio Mark Weaver made a compelling case for why the Founding Fathers thought presidential immunity for official duties was important enough to put in the Constitution.

According to Weaver, presidents must have immunity because being subject to criminal charges after leaving office could prejudice their decision-making and cause them to make bad decisions for the country.

"Absolute immunity is appropriate when the threat of liability may bias the decisionmaker in ways that are adverse to the public interest," the Supreme Court said in 1972 about whether Richard Nixon could be sued civilly for official acts done during his presidency.

"Dinosaur-sized distraction"

Weaver said the immunity is even more important for criminal liability, because jail time is an even bigger potential distraction than civil penalties.

"If a threat of being ordered to pay money for a civil claim is a deterrent enough to distract a president from doing the work of the executive branch, the threat of being sent to prison is a dinosaur-sized distraction," he wrote.

Why is Trump's immunity even a question when it's in the Constitution?

"Partisans," Weaver said, "seek to use any available tool to attack an opponent without realizing that the tool might someday get turned on them."

Founding Fathers knew it

The increasingly partisan nature of American politics is unfortunately eclipsing the good judgment of more than 200 years, during which charging a former president with crimes has never been done precisely because it would damage the country and become a revenge spiral that never ends.

The Founding Fathers knew this. Washington even addressed it, as Weaver pointed out.

In his farewell address, he warned about the "domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities."

James Madison also addressed political revenge cycles in Federalist 43, describing what is being set in motion today with Trump in fairly accurate terms.

But Democrats have become so short-sighted and have demonized Trump so completely that they've lost all reason when it comes to their response to him.

It's up to the Supreme Court to bring reason back to the situation. Let's hope they have the courage to do it.

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