Analysis by , CNN Senior Supreme Court Analyst

CNN —  Special counsel Jack Smith’s request to the Supreme Court on Monday thrusts the justices into a highly charged situation with a former president who has repeatedly tried to politicize the federal judiciary and use it for his ends.

As this case tests Smith’s federal prosecution of Donald Trump for election subversion, it will also test America’s high court.

During the Trump tenure, disputes over his administration’s policy and his own business dealings constantly roiled the justices. As Trump challenged the rule of law, he fomented conspiracy theories and engaged in personal attacks. He directed vitriol toward Chief Justice John Roberts and, when he lost a case, the entire bench.

After the 2020 election, the justices rejected baseless Trump-related claims that would have undermined the results that put Joe Biden in the White House.

Now Smith, representing the US government, has asked the justices – six conservatives and three liberals – to step up and to accept immediate responsibility for a question that only they can definitively decide: Is a former president absolutely immune from prosecution for crimes committed while in office?

From beginning to end, the Supreme Court’s handling of the case is bound to be closely scrutinized. Public opinion polls show approval of the justices at record lows, as the court has delivered a series of decisions rolling back established precedents and become tangled in ethics controversies.

Five votes would be needed to grant the case directly from a federal trial court, skipping the appellate level, and the individual justices are bound to have varying views regarding the urgency of the matter. Some have distinct relationships with Trump.

He appointed three of the justices, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. A fourth, Clarence Thomas, is linked to Trump through the activities of his wife, Ginni Thomas, who sought to help Trump retain the presidency back in 2020.

That has already spurred some Democrats to question whether Thomas should hear the case. Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin told CNN that Thomas should consider recusing himself because of his wife’s role in trying to overturn the election results. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal went further, saying he believes Thomas should definitely recuse.

The justices’ decision whether to hear Trump’s claim of immunity may determine whether his trial for election subversion culminating in the January 6, 2021, insurrection is over before votes are cast in a new matchup later in 2024 between Trump and Biden.

Smith has made a compelling case for the justices’ early intervention, before a US appellate court addresses the question, so that a scheduled March 4 trial can go forward.

The magnitude of the constitutional issue regarding presidential immunity cannot be overstated, and Smith has invoked the Supreme Court’s 1974 Watergate case, along with the adage that “no person is above the law,” to try to persuade the justices to fast-track the dispute.

“Nothing could be more vital to our democracy than that a President who abuses the electoral system to remain in office is held accountable for criminal conduct,” Smith wrote in his petition. “Yet (Trump) has asserted that the Constitution accords him absolute immunity from prosecution. The Constitution’s text, structure, and history lend no support to that novel claim.”

Late Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to expedite the filings at this stage, directing Trump’s lawyers to respond by 4 p.m. ET December 20 to Smith’s request that the justices hear the case.

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