Supreme Court Gives Trump Partial Win In Immunity Case

Supreme Court Holds Investiture Ceremony For Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson

Photo: Supreme Court of the United States/Getty Images

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed Donald Trump a big but partial victory, ruling that he has immunity from criminal prosecution for any official act he took as president — but not unofficial acts. The 6-3 decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts and split on ideological lines, sends the matter back to federal Judge Tanya Chutkan who is presiding over the long-delayed federal election subversion case against Trump.

In its decision, the Republican majority largely affirmed that a president and former holder of that office is entitled to immunity for official acts taken while in power, going farther in protecting Trump and future presidents than many observers had expected. Importantly, they also agreed that acts that cannot be prosecuted are also barred from being used in trial as evidence for other matters — a clarification that may hamstring the January 6 case against Trump.

“We conclude that under our constitutional structure of separated powers, the nature of Presidential power requires that a former President have some immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts during his tenure in office,” Roberts wrote. “At least with respect to the President’s exercise of his core constitutional powers, this immunity must be absolute.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Elena Kagen and Ketanji Brown Jackson, wrote a blistering dissent, writing that the majority “fails to recognize or grapple with the lack of historical evidence for its new immunity.” She said that her conservative colleagues’s ruling gives a future president’s broad leeway to use their power with ill intent, listing off bleak scenarios such as a leader accepting a bribe in exchange for a pardon or using the military to assassinate a political opponent.

“Even if these nightmare scenarios never play out, and I pray they never do, the damage has been done. The relationship between the President and the people he serves has shifted irrevocably,” Sotomayor wrote. “In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.”

In August 2023, Trump was indicted on four counts in connection with his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, resulting in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. He pleaded not guilty. Trump and his legal team have long argued that he has immunity from federal prosecution in this case because his actions took place while he was president. A D.C. appeals court disagreed with that premise; the three-member panel ruling in February that Trump does not have presidential immunity in the case. Later that month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear his argument. And on Monday, they overturned the appeals court’s ruling.

Chutkan had already delayed the January 6 cases’s planned start date in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Now she will need to painstakingly establish which of Trump’s actions is covered by the new immunity standard and which aren’t, a process that will likely be time-consuming, and which makes it increasingly doubtful that Trump’s trial will happen before the November election.

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