US Supreme Court: Trump entitled to broad immunity in election interference case

 US Supreme Court: Trump entitled to broad immunity in election interference case
Share it

VOA News/By Ken Bredemeier

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that former President Donald Trump has immunity from prosecution for any official acts he undertook while in office to upend his 2020 reelection loss but no immunity for unofficial acts. The top U.S. court left it up to lower courts to decide under which instances Trump could be prosecuted.

The 6-3 ruling, on the last day of the court’s current term, all but guarantees that Trump will not be tried in the case before the November 5 election in which he is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, set to again face President Joe Biden, the Democrat who defeated him in 2020.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing linked to the outcome of the 2020 election but has long falsely claimed that voting and vote-counting irregularities cost him another four-year term in the White House.

If he loses the November election, he could soon afterward face trial in the case linked to the 2020 election, but if he wins, he could direct his attorney general, the country’s top prosecutor, to drop the case.

The court’s decision broke down along ideological lines, with the court’s six conservatives in the majority and its three-member liberal minority dissenting.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said Trump “may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers, and he is entitled, at a minimum, to a presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts.”

But Roberts said, “The President enjoys no immunity for unofficial acts, and not everything the President does is official. The President is not above the law.”

On its own, the court threw out part of prosecutor Jack Smith’s case against Trump — the former president’s alleged efforts to use the Justice Department to buttress his claims of election fraud and submit slates of fake Trump electors in states that Biden won.

“The President may discuss potential investigations and prosecutions with his Attorney General and other Justice Department officials to carry out his constitutional duty,” Roberts wrote. “Trump is therefore absolutely immune from prosecution for the alleged conduct involving his discussions with Justice Department officials.”

The court instructed the federal trial judge, Tanya Chutkan in Washington, to review Trump’s indictment before any trial can occur for charges that must be dismissed because they are based on his official acts, while leaving stand unofficial acts that could serve as a basis for a prosecution of Trump. The court said Chutkan “may not inquire into the President’s motives.”

The court’s dissenting judges vehemently opposed the decision, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor writing that it “makes a mockery of the principle, foundational to our Constitution and system of Government, that no man is above the law

Trump was elated with the ruling, saying in all caps on his Truth Social platform, “Big win for our Constitution and democracy. Proud to be an American.”

The high court ruling was the first time the court had ever decided whether a former president could be prosecuted in a criminal case for actions he took while in office, or whether he has immunity from being charged. The ruling appeared to leave that question to be decided on a case-by-case basis and individual sets of circumstances.

A bedrock of U.S. jurisprudence holds that no one is above the law, that everyone has the same freedoms but also that everyone is subject to prosecution for breaking laws. Again, the ruling seemed to embrace ambiguity, with further decisions yet to be made.

Trump made a sweeping claim of executive immunity, saying that in trying to upend his election loss four years ago, he was acting officially as president in trying to uphold the integrity of the outcome, insisting that he lost only because of fraud and election irregularities.

Trump lost five dozen court cases claiming he was cheated out of reelection to a second four-year term, and to this day frequently makes the same false claim, only occasionally saying he lost reelection to Biden.

Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith accused Trump in a four-count indictment filed in Washington almost a year ago of plotting to overturn the 2020 election result, engaging in a conspiracy to upend his loss to stay in power.

Smith accused Trump of seeking to get Justice Department officials to help validate his claims that widespread fraud had kept him from winning reelection. The indictment alleged that he and key aides pressured state lawmakers to draft false slates of electors saying that he had won states where vote counts favored Biden.

The indictment laid out how Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to block or delay certification of Biden’s victory as Congress considered the final vote count at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

In the U.S., the outcome of presidential elections is not determined by the popular vote but by a vote in the Electoral College. The national election is, in effect, a state-by-state vote in each of the 50 states, with the most populous states holding the most votes in the Electoral College.

Trump claimed in the case the Supreme Court considered that the acts he undertook were not criminal to stay in power but rather to safeguard the integrity of the election and that he cannot be prosecuted. Trump’s lawyers claimed that his actions sat “at the heart of” Trump’s “official responsibilities as president.”

In one instance, his lawyers even argued that a president could not be prosecuted for using the military to assassinate a rival unless he first was impeached in a congressional proceeding.

After the ruling, Biden’s campaign said, “Let’s be very clear about what happened on January 6. Donald Trump snapped after he lost the 2020 election and encouraged a mob to overthrow the results of a free and fair election. Trump is already running for president as a convicted felon for the very same reason he sat idly by while the mob violently attacked the Capitol: he thinks he’s above the law and is willing to do anything to gain and hold onto power for himself.”

Other court decisions have ruled that presidents have limited immunity from civil lawsuits contesting the actions they have taken.

But Monday’s case was the first time the court ruled on presidential immunity as it pertained to alleged criminal actions by a president, and as such could set precedent for all future presidents as well, not just Trump.

As the case proceeded earlier this year, Trump contended publicly at news conferences and political rallies that all U.S. presidents must have immunity from being charged criminally after they are out of office because otherwise newly empowered political rivals in the White House would immediately look to indict their erstwhile opponents.

Trump has already been convicted of 34 felony charges in a New York state court, with a jury in late May finding him guilty of falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 hush money payment to a porn star just ahead of his successful 2016 election campaign to silence her claim — denied by Trump — that she had a one-night tryst with him in 2006.

Trump faces sentencing on July 11 and could be placed on probation or be imprisoned for up to four years.

Aside from the Washington election interference case, Trump also faces two other criminal indictments, one that he interfered with the 2020 election outcome in the southern state of Georgia, where he narrowly lost to Biden, and another accusing him of hoarding national security documents at his oceanside Mar-a-Lago retreat rather than handing them over to the National Archives as he was required to do when he left office in early 2021.

Share it

LPR News