Can former President Donald Trump be tried for crimes he allegedly committed while in office? Should he be disqualified from running for president under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment?
Those may be the biggest questions the Supreme Court will grapple with this term, as it decides whether to hear the federal government’s request for a ruling on executive immunity and any appeals from the former president about decisions by the Colorado Supreme Court and the secretary of state in Maine declaring him ineligible for the presidency and removing him from each state’s primary ballot.
Decisions on these cases would define the Supreme Court’s 2024 term, says Jeremy R. Paul, a professor of law and former dean of the Northeastern University School of Law.
The current Supreme Court term is shaping up to be another blockbuster, with decisions expected next year that could have major implications for abortion access, regulatory power and the prosecution of Trump.
After a highly consequential 2023 that brought decisions on student debt and affirmative action in college admissions, the politically charged 2024 docket carries even greater resonance in a presidential election year.
Northeastern legal experts say the court will be walking a fine line over just how big a statement it wants to make on issues that matter to the American electorate — notably access to the abortion pill mifepristone, and the legal process playing out in Trump’s prosecution.
“The court is paying attention to what’s going on around the country, and I think they have to decide whether they want to play a marginal or more central role in the events leading up to 2024,” says Dan Urman, director of the law and public policy minor at Northeastern, who teaches courses on the Supreme Court. “In 2020, the court kind of stayed out of it.”
Overseen by special counsel Jack Smith, the case against Trump is currently pending before the high court, which could decide in just days whether to weigh in on the former president’s immunity claim. In an urgent plea, Smith asked the Supreme Court to review the matter of whether Trump, who was president when he allegedly tried to overturn the election, should be shielded from prosecution to allow one pending criminal trial to proceed on time.
It goes without saying that the Supreme Court’s imminent decision to review the Trump case is of significant public interest. Should it take up the case, it would thrust the high court into the limelight for weighing in on election matters in the middle of a presidential race, Paul says. Trump is currently the early Republican front-runner for president.
“Of course, if the court does take, it will — no pun intended — trump all of the other cases,” Paul says.
Paul says he suspects the high court will hear the case, which would make it the most anticipated out of the bunch.
Here are four other key Supreme Court cases to keep an eye out for in 2024.
Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. Food and Drug Administration
The high court will again wade into tendentious territory on abortion by agreeing to take up a case that would clarify access to a commonly used abortion pill, called mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex). The pill — which is used in more than half of all abortions in the U.S. — inhibits the production of a hormone called progesterone, which is vital for a pregnancy to continue.
The case began in November 2022 when a group of doctors and medical groups sued the Food and Drug Administration, claiming its 2000 approval of the drug and subsequent actions expanding access (by mail, and without a doctor’s prescription) were unlawful. In April 2023, a lower court ruled that the FDA’s actions were unlawful; but after several appeals, it went before the Supreme Court, which put the lower courts’ decisions on hold pending review.
The medication remains available until a decision is issued by the Supreme Court. The case is the court’s first major review of abortion since it overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, ending a constitutional right to abortion that had been backed by 50 years of precedent.
The Supreme Court has yet to hear oral arguments.
United States v. Rahimi
The Supreme Court broadened Second Amendment rights in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, ruling in June 2022 that New York’s conceal carry law was unconstitutional for requiring that an individual show “proper cause” before they can be licensed to carry in public. The decision relied on an expansive reading of the Second Amendment, one that put forward new criteria for assessing gun laws — namely, that they have to be consistent with the nation’s “historical tradition.”
In United States v. Rahimi, a Texas man who was issued a civil restraining order against his ex-girlfriend was convicted for possessing a gun while under a restraining order. The protective order was issued after he assaulted his partner in a parking lot. The man, Zackey Rahimi, challenged the law, claiming it violated his Second Amendment rights.
The question before the court: Should individuals who are subject to domestic violence prevention orders be allowed to own guns?
“The Supreme Court heard the case and sounded pretty skeptical of Mr. Rahimi’s argument,” Urman says. “You could hear the justices sort of say, ‘Doesn’t the government need to keep guns from dangerous people?’”
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Urman says the historical standard established in Bruen may not come into play in Rahimi; but the test will certainly impact gun laws nationwide, and the court may be litigating these Second Amendment issues potentially for years to come.
“We are in a period of somewhat new ground,” Urman says. “The court, by expanding Second Amendment rights, is now going to be asked to define the limits of that expanded reading. In Bruen, they changed the rule; now they have to deal with the consequences, which are new interpretations of that rule.”
Securities and Exchange Commission v. Jarkesy
In 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission found that George Jarkesy, a hedge fund manager, committed securities fraud and subsequently fined him. Jarkesy responded by suing the SEC, claiming the agency violated his constitutional rights. An appeals court agreed, finding that the internal hearings in front of an administrative law judge violated the Seventh Amendment, which guarantees a right to a trial by jury in most civil lawsuits.
Several questions are central to the case, Urman says. First, does a federal agency have the right to impose financial penalties in lieu of a jury trial? And second, do the agencies have discretion to decide which cases proceed to federal court?
Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo
For decades, the Supreme Court has deferred to governmental agencies, which in turn issue interpretations of ambiguous laws. The rule is part of a finding in a well-known case called Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council.
That principle — Chevron deference — is facing a challenge in a case involving a group of commercial fishermen, who sued the National Marine Fisheries Service over an agency rule requiring that the fishermen allow federal observers tasked with monitoring overfishing on board their vessels. In addition, the fisheries are required to pay the salaries of those observers.
The rule is the result of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s reading of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing fisheries in the U.S.
To what degree should courts, when interpreting the meaning of a law, defer to the decisions of administrative agencies?
Paul says the conservative-leaning court is embracing a new standard for interpreting laws called the “major questions doctrine.” The major questions doctrine states that a government agency deciding on an issue of major national interest must act with clear congressional authorization.
“Over the last several terms, the court has left the Chevron doctrine in place; but it has invented a new rule, one that’s something of a flip on the Chevron doctrine, called the major questions doctrine,” Paul says.