Did Donald Trump spark an insurrection? Try to steal an election? Should he be barred from running for the White House again? Is a former president immune from prosecution?

Those are just some of the weighty questions that the US courts are grappling with as the 77-year-old real estate tycoon seeks a second term in the Oval Office.

The slew of criminal and civil cases facing the former Republican president has thrust the judiciary into the uncomfortable position of being an arbiter in an election year in a white-hot political arena.

"This isn't the kind of fight that courts generally relish," said William Howell, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. "And yet, here we are."

Trump is facing felony charges over his alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and his role in the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol by his supporters, exactly three years ago.


He is also accused of mishandling top secret documents after leaving the White House and faces state charges in New York for paying election-eve hush money to a porn star.

And those are just the criminal cases.

Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, noted that courts are "asked to decide tough questions all the time."

"But there's no question it feels more acute when you're dealing with these questions ahead of a presidential election, including questions that could be decisive such as whether or not the candidate gets to run in the first place."

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That is the question the US Supreme Court agreed to hear Friday, taking on an appeal by Trump of a ruling by Colorado's top court that would keep him off the Republican primary ballot in the western state.

The Colorado Supreme Court barred Trump from the ballot citing an amendment that bans anyone from holding public office if they engaged in "insurrection or rebellion" after once pledging to support and defend the Constitution.

The courts are no stranger to ballot access questions, Muller said, "but they're usually marginal candidates, independent candidates, third party candidates.


"You're not dealing with the frontrunner for the nomination."

Howell said the nine justices on the Supreme Court, three of whom were appointed by Trump, will certainly factor the political climate into their eventual ruling.

"You can bet that the judges, when trying to think about whether or not they want to strip him of the candidacy, will be thinking about how the political dynamics are going to play out," he said.

- 'Absolute immunity' -

The conservative-dominated Supreme Court may also have to weigh in on Trump's claim that as a former president he enjoys "absolute immunity" from prosecution.

That is an argument Trump's lawyers have advanced in a bid to throw out the federal case charging him with conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden.

The District Court judge in Washington who is to hear the election conspiracy case, currently scheduled for March, has rejected the immunity claim and it is pending before an appeals court.

Muller said the courts are navigating largely uncharted waters when it comes to the immunity question.


"No former president has ever been indicted before, much less in four different places, and tried to make those assertions of immunity," he said.

Trump's legal woes have highlighted another fact about the courts, Howell said, which is that they tend to move very slowly.

"And that figures into Trump's strategy, which is to try to delay, delay, delay with the hopes that he'll actually win the presidency and all this will go away," he said.

If Trump wins the November election, he could conceivably pardon himself or move to have the charges against him dismissed.

Besides the criminal cases, Trump is also embroiled in civil actions.

Trump and his two eldest sons are accused of business fraud in New York for inflating the value of their real estate assets to receive more favorable bank loans and insurance terms.

The former president was also found liable last year of sexually abusing and defaming a magazine writer and ordered to pay $5 million in damages.

Trump's legal woes do not appear, however, to have dented his popularity among the Republican rank-and-file and he remains the overwhelming favorite to capture the party's presidential nomination.

Trump has used the indictments to drum up political support, portraying them as "election interference" by a Justice Department "weaponized" by Biden, his likely November opponent.


After he became the first ex-president to have his mugshot taken -- in Georgia, where he is charged with racketeering -- Trump embraced the photo of him glaring at the camera as a fundraising tool.

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