Supreme Court rules Trump does not have absolute immunity, sends cases to lower courts

NOW: Supreme Court rules Trump does not have absolute immunity, sends cases to lower courts

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On Monday morning, the United States Supreme Court ruled that former President Donald Trump can claim immunity from criminal prosecution for some of the actions he took during his time as president, but not all.

The vote was officially 6-3, along political party lines, with the six conservative justices voting in favor of immunity, and the three democratic justices dissenting. 

Due to the ruling, former and future presidents will enjoy immunity for all "official acts," but not for what the court called "unofficial acts."

"Determining whether a former President is entitled to immunity from a particular prosecution requires applying the principles we have laid out to his conduct at issue," SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts said. "The first step is to distinguish his official from unofficial actions. In this case, however, no court has thus far considered how to draw that distinction, in general or with respect to the conduct alleged in particular."

Those determinations will now be sent to the lower courts to decide for themselves.

"Despite the unprecedented nature of this case, and the very significant constitutional questions that it raises, the lower courts rendered their decisions on a highly expedited basis," Justice Roberts said. "Because those courts categorically rejected any form of Presidential immunity, they did not analyze the conduct alleged in the indictment to decide which of it should be categorized as official and unofficial."

According to documents in the case, on Aug. 1, 2023, a federal grand jury indicted Trump on four counts for conduct that occurred during his Presidency following the November 2020 election. The indictment alleged that after losing that election, Trump conspired to overturn it by spreading knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the collecting, counting, and certifying of the election results.

Also, Trump and his co-conspirators allegedly organized fraudulent slates of electors in seven targeted states and caused these fraudulent electors to transmit their false certificates to the Vice President and other government officials to be counted at the certification proceeding on Jan. 6, 2021.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor's wrote a dissenting opinion with input from Justices Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

"This historical evidence reinforces that, from the very beginning, the presumption in this Nation has always been that no man is free to flout the criminal law," the dissenting opinion reads. "The majority fails to recognize or grapple with the lack of historical evidence for its new immunity. With nothing on its side of the ledger, the most the majority can do is claim that the historical evidence is a wash.

"In sum, the majority today endorses an expansive vision of Presidential immunity that was never recognized by the Founders, any sitting President, the Executive Branch, or even President Trump’s lawyers, until now. Settled understandings of the Constitution are of little use to the majority in this case, and so it ignores them ... 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. In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.

"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. 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."

Former President Trump sees the ruling as a clear victory, not only for himself, but for the country.

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