Former president Donald Trump wins immunity

Former president Donald Trump wins immunity

Former president Donald Trump has immunity only from official actions taken in office, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, overturning a lower court verdict that had denied him legal shield against criminal charges stemming from his contentious efforts to manipulate the 2020 election results.

As a result of this landmark ruling, the federal election meddling case against the Republican presidential candidate will be back in a lower court that will then choose to apply this ruling in the best of ways.

The court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that while former US presidents enjoy immunity for actions taken within their constitutional authority, they are not entitled to it for deeds done in a private capacity.

The ruling marked the first time since the nation’s 18th century founding that the Supreme Court has declared that former presidents may be shielded from criminal charges in any instance.

Chief Justice John Roberts announced the landmark ruling on behalf of the court’s six-justice conservative majority. The court’s three liberal justices dissented.

The decision came in Trump’s appeal of a lower court ruling rejecting his immunity claim. The court decided the case on the last day of its term.

“We conclude that under our constitutional structure of separated powers, the nature of presidential power requires that a former president have some immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts during his tenure in office,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in Monday’s opinion.

“At least with respect to the president’s exercise of his core constitutional powers, this immunity must be absolute.”

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

Trump is the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 5 presidential election in a rematch from four years ago. The court’s slow handling of the blockbuster case already had helped Trump by making it unlikely that any trial on these charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith could be completed before the election.

Trump had argued that he is immune from prosecution because he was serving as president when he took the actions that led to the charges. Smith had opposed presidential immunity from prosecution based on the principle that no one is above the law.

During April 25 arguments in the case, Trump’s legal team urged the justices to fully shield former presidents from criminal charges – “absolute immunity” – for official acts taken in office. Without immunity, Trump’s lawyer said, sitting presidents would face “blackmail and extortion” by political rivals due to the threat of future prosecution.

The court’s 6-3 conservative majority includes three justices Trump appointed. Smith’s election subversion charges embody one of the four criminal cases Trump has faced.

Trump, 78, is the first former US president to be criminally prosecuted as well as the first former president convicted of a crime.

In the special counsel’s August 2023 indictment, Trump was charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, corruptly obstructing an official proceeding and conspiring to do so, and conspiring against the right of Americans to vote. He has pleaded not guilty.

Trump’s trial had been scheduled to start on March 4 before the delays over the immunity issue. Now, no trial date is set. Trump made his immunity claim to the trial judge in October, meaning the issue has been litigated for about nine months.

In a separate case brought in New York state court, Trump was found guilty by a jury in Manhattan on May 30 on 34 counts of falsifying documents to cover up hush money paid to a porn star to avoid a sex scandal before the 2016 election. Trump also faces criminal charges in two other cases. He has pleaded not guilty in those and called all the cases against him politically motivated.

A lawyer for the special counsel’s office told the Supreme Court during arguments that the “absolute immunity” sought by Trump would shield presidents from criminal liability for bribery, treason, sedition, murder and, as in this case, trying to overturn the proper results of an election and stay in power.

During the arguments, justices asked hypothetical questions involving a president selling nuclear secrets, taking a bribe or ordering a coup or political assassination. If such actions were official conduct, Trump’s lawyer argued, a former president could be charged only if first impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted in the Senate – something that has never happened in US history.

In a May Reuters/Ipsos poll, just 27% of respondents – 9% of Democrats, 50% of Republicans and 29% of independents – agreed that presidents should be immune from prosecution unless they have first been impeached and convicted by Congress

Source: BBC

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