Supreme Court rules Trump has immunity for ‘official acts,' limits evidence and reach of special counsel's election case

Cheney Orr | Reuters
  • The Supreme Court ruled that former President Donald Trump is immune from criminal prosecution for official acts as president, limiting the evidence and scope of special counsel Jack Smith's case.
  • Trump is charged in a four-count indictment with illegally conspiring to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
  • The 6-3 decision drew a scathing dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote that it "effectively creates a law-free zone around the President."



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The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Donald Trump has "presumptive immunity" for official acts he performed as president, complicating but not killing special counsel Jack Smith's election interference case.

The court also ruled that Trump is not immune for "unofficial acts." And "not everything the President does is official," the majority determined.

But the decision effectively erases any chance that the high-profile criminal case against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee will head to trial before the Nov. 5 election.

The 6-3 ruling, which was opposed by the court's three liberal justices, sends the case back to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan.

"The President is not above the law," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

"But Congress may not criminalize the President's conduct in carrying out the responsibilities of the Executive Branch under the Constitution," Roberts ruled.

That means the president is "absolutely immune from criminal prosecution for conduct within his exclusive sphere of constitutional authority," Roberts wrote.

That covers actions such as granting pardons or removing presidentially appointed executive officers, he wrote.

The president also enjoys "at least a presumptive immunity from criminal prosecution" for acts performed "within the outer perimeter of his official responsibility," the majority concluded.

That standard "is required to safeguard the independence and effective functioning of the Executive Branch," the chief justice explained.

In practice, that means that the president is immune from prosecution "unless the Government can show that applying a criminal prohibition to that act would pose no 'dangers of intrusion on the authority and functions of the Executive Branch,'" Roberts wrote.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a blistering dissent wrote, "this majority's project will have disastrous consequences for the Presidency and for our democracy."

"The relationship between the President and the people he serves has shifted irrevocably. In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law," she wrote.

"When he uses his official powers in any way, under the majority's reasoning, he now will be insulated from criminal prosecution," Sotomayor wrote.

"Orders the Navy's Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune."

"With fear for our democracy, I dissent," she wrote.

Trump celebrated the ruling soon after its release Monday morning.


Trump is charged in a four-count indictment with illegally conspiring to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

The case in Washington, D.C., federal court has been on pause while Trump argues that he is immune from prosecution for any official acts he performed while he was president. Lawyers for Trump contended that an ex-president cannot be charged for their official acts in office unless they are impeached and convicted by Congress.

Trump was impeached in the House for inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and temporarily blocked lawmakers from confirming Biden's electoral victory. He was acquitted in the Senate, where the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to secure a conviction.

The pause of the election case forced Chutkan to postpone Trump's trial, which was initially set to start March 4.

Critics fumed when the high court decided to take up the immunity question, rather than let stand an appellate court ruling rejecting Trump's immunity claims.

The Supreme Court's intervention guaranteed months of additional delay and threatened to push any trial past the Nov. 5 election.

The election case is often considered the most serious of the four criminal indictments that have been filed against Trump while he seeks another term as president.

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