Supreme Court Affirms Presidential Immunity in Trump’s Case

The decision delays Donald Trump's trial on 2020 election charges, influencing the upcoming November election cycle.

2 mins read

Mia Boykin

The Supreme Court ruled on July 1 that former presidents have certain immunities from prosecution, leading to a delay in the Washington criminal case against Donald Trump. The case involves charges that he plotted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, with the ruling likely postponing any trial until after the November election.

In a 6-3 decision the court remanded his case to the trial court to determine the remaining scope of special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment against Trump. The court’s conservative majority included three justices appointed by Trump himself. The decision was also delayed by over two months, longer than usual for significant high court cases involving presidential actions, such as those related to Watergate.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, stated, “Under our constitutional structure of separated powers, the nature of presidential power entitles a former president to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissenting opinion, argued, “Our Constitution does not shield a former President from answering for criminal and treasonous acts,” and described the ruling as a distortion of the principle that no one is above the law.

Following the decision, Trump celebrated on social media, declaring, “BIG WIN FOR OUR CONSTITUTION AND DEMOCRACY. PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!” Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the decision as “disgraceful” and indicative of political influence in the judiciary.

On the night of July 1, President Joe Biden addressed the nation and spoke about the ruling. “For all practical purposes, today’s decision almost certainly means that there are virtually no limits on what the president can do,” Biden said. Legal experts agree with him. 

David Becker, the executive director for Election Innovation and Research, told the Washington Post, “If a future president sitting in the Oval Office were to want to commit crimes, up to and including subverting an election or remaining in power against the will of the American people, this opinion, in my mind, could provide a road map for that.” 

The ruling notably removes one element of the indictment, establishing that Trump is “absolutely immune” from prosecution regarding alleged conduct involving the Justice Department. It also grants him “presumptive immunity” from claims that he pressured Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory on January 6, 2021. Chief Justice Roberts noted that prosecutors could still argue that Trump’s actions toward Pence remain relevant to the case.

Many experts worry over how this will impact the 2024 Election. Source: Flickr

The court also ordered a factual analysis of the claim that Trump participated in a scheme to use fake electors in states won by Biden. This analysis will be conducted by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who will oversee Trump’s trial.

Legal experts expressed concern about the broad immunity granted to Trump, worried that the ruling is too vague, and could serve as a precedent for future presidents to evade legal accountability. 

Trump, facing multiple indictments, denies any wrongdoing and claims the prosecutions are politically motivated. In May, Trump was convicted of a felony in New York for falsifying business records related to a hush money payment. He also faces charges in a separate federal case concerning the mishandling of classified documents and another case in Georgia related to his actions after the 2020 election.

If Trump does not face trial before the 2024 election and loses, he could stand trial shortly after. However, if he wins, he could appoint an attorney general to dismiss the federal cases against him or attempt to pardon himself, though he could not pardon his state conviction in New York.

The Supreme Court’s involvement underscores the significant role it plays in the forthcoming election. The court’s composition includes three Trump appointees and two justices whose impartiality has been questioned due to personal connections to the events of January 6, 2021.

Trump’s trial was initially set to begin on March 4, but this date has been postponed following his legal maneuvers and the Supreme Court’s review. Lower courts previously ruled that Trump could be prosecuted for actions taken while in office, stating that former presidents do not enjoy lifelong immunity from criminal prosecution. As the trial moves to lower courts, the nation sits with anticipation to see how these historic changes could impact the election come November, and the four years after. 

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