Yes, Trump cares about that Supreme Court double jeopardy case. A lot.
Terance Martez Gamble was convicted of second-degree robbery, a felony, in 2008. As a result, he was barred under both state and federal law from possessing a firearm. Nevertheless, he was caught with a gun during a traffic stop in 2015. He was successfully prosecuted for that offense—first by Alabama and then by the federal government. The state conviction earned him just a year in prison, which he completed in May 2017, while the federal conviction resulted in a sentence almost four times as long. As a result, Gamble isn’t due to be released from prison until February 2020.
Gamble’s contesting that outcome: He argued from the outset that the federal prosecution violated the Constitution’s double jeopardy clause, which resides in the Fifth Amendment. “No person shall ... be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb“ means that the state and federal government shouldn’t be able to prosecute him for the exact same offense, Gamble argues. On its face, it seems clear enough. But double jeopardy precedent is more complicated than that.
For more than a century, since the 1850s, the Supreme Court has maintained that “separate sovereigns” are each entitled to exercise their own jurisdiction. That means a prosecution by one sovereign—the federal government, the military, states, and tribes—doesn’t bar subsequent prosecution by another sovereign. Separate sovereign doctrine was thoroughly reaffirmed in a pair of 1959 cases, one in which a state conviction preceded a federal conviction for the same conduct and a second in which the federal conviction preceded the state conviction.
The bar for overturning Supreme Court precedent is high. It would be, to put it lightly, unusual for the justices to throw out 170 years of precedent, especially precedent that so fundamentally affects how the criminal justice system operates, just as the court observed in 1959. It’d also be a massive abrogation of states’ rights and, specifically, police powers—on some views—to make it the case that federal prosecution could pre-empt state prosecution. At a minimum, it would radically change the balance of power between state and federal government in criminal justice.
Unsurprisingly, a group of 36 states led by Texas is objecting to any change to separate sovereign doctrine. The states argue that “[d]enying a State the ability to [prosecute an individual under its laws] would transform the nature of sovereignty.” They point to precedent that just two terms ago the Supreme Court referred the principle of separate sovereigns as “fundamental” to “constitutional order” and “the very bedrock of our Union.”
That said, separate sovereign doctrine is an excellent example of precedent that bears revisiting given subsequent developments.