Donald Trump receives immunity for actions as president

Supreme court grants Trump immunity for presidential duties

by Faruk Imamovic
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Donald Trump receives immunity for actions as president
© Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker

The US Supreme Court has ruled that former presidents are entitled to a degree of immunity from prosecution, dramatically reducing the likelihood that a federal criminal case against Donald Trump on charges that he planned to stop the transfer of power will continue before the 2024 election.

Trump gets immunity for official acts as president

The court's conservative majority — which Trump helped create — found that presidents are protected from prosecution for official acts that may concern their office, but could face charges for acts they committed personally, or in private. “The nature of presidential power entitles a former president to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority. And he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts. There is no immunity for unofficial acts,” states the Supreme Court ruling, which is a win for Trump.

The justices created three categories to assess presidential actions: official acts with absolute immunity, unofficial conduct without immunity, and acts in the gray area requiring further judicial review.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, “The President is absolutely immune from criminal prosecution for conduct within his exclusive sphere of constitutional authority.” He elaborated that this immunity does not extend to actions that fall outside the bounds of official presidential duties. Roberts specified that immunity does not cover actions that are purely personal or political in nature, nor does it shield conduct that is taken for personal gain rather than in the service of the nation.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh joined the opinion. Justice Amy Coney Barrett concurred partly, while Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented.

Trump’s legal team, led by attorney D. John Sauer, had argued for a broad interpretation of presidential immunity, asserting that Trump’s actions, including efforts to influence the election results through various means, were performed in his official capacity and should therefore be shielded from prosecution.

Some justices expressed skepticism during oral arguments about Trump’s expansive immunity claims. Kagan questioned Sauer, asking, “How about if a president orders the military to stage a coup?” Sauer responded, “If it’s an official act, there needs to be impeachment and conviction beforehand.” Kagan retorted, “That sure sounds bad, doesn’t it?” eliciting laughter from the courtroom.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump© Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker
 

With this ruling, the Supreme Court has overturned lower court rulings that denied Trump immunity, and ordered them to figure out how to apply the decision to the ex-president’s case. The sentence was approved 6-3, with the six conservative justices — including the three appointed by Trump — ruling in favor of immunity. The three progressive justices voted against the decision.

“The president enjoys no immunity for his unofficial acts, and not everything the president does is official. The president is not above the law. But under our system of separated powers, the president may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers, and he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for his official acts,” states the 119-page ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts. “That immunity applies equally to all occupants of the Oval Office.”

In her dissent, Sotomayor laid out the dire ramifications of the decision.

“Never in the history of our Republic has a President had reason to believe that he would be immune from criminal prosecution if he used the trappings of his office to violate the criminal law,” she wrote. “Moving forward, however, all former Presidents will be cloaked in such immunity. If the occupant of that office misuses official power for personal gain, the criminal law that the rest of us must abide will not provide a backstop. With fear for our democracy, I dissent.”

Accusations

Trump is accused of overseeing an extensive effort to undermine the 2020 election, including two counts of conspiracy to interfere with the certification of election results, conspiracy to defraud the government, and conspiracy to disenfranchise voters.

The accusations include Trump spreading false claims of election fraud, planning to create fake electoral rolls, pressuring US Justice Department officials to open bogus investigations into election fraud, and pressuring his Vice President Mike Pence to obstruct Congress in order not to certify the victory of Joe Biden.

The Trump election fraud case ruling was one of the last the Supreme Court handed down this term. Waiting for the end, the conservative majority played in Trump's favor and helped his legal strategy by trying to delay any trial as long as possible, reports the British newspaper Guardian.

The effect of the ruling to block the speedy trial, after a court quickly ruled in March that Trump should remain the candidate, has already drawn fierce criticism from liberals and others who believe Trump's case should be resolved before voters cast their ballots in the upcoming election.

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