Supreme Court rules on Trump immunity claim, delaying trial

The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that Donald Trump enjoys some immunity from prosecution as a former president, a ruling that will likely delay his trial for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.  (Photo by Luke Hales / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

By Chris Lefkow

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2024 (AFP) – The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that Donald Trump enjoys some immunity from prosecution as a former president, a ruling that will likely delay his trial for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.

The 6-3 decision split along ideological lines comes four months ahead of the presidential election in which Trump is the Republican candidate to take on Democrat Joe Biden.

The historic case was the last heard during the court’s current term and has far-reaching implications for executive power and the White House race.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion, said a president is “not above the law” but does have “absolute immunity” from criminal prosecution for official acts taken while in office.

“The president therefore 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,” Roberts said.

“As for a President’s unofficial acts, there is no immunity,” the chief justice added, sending the case back to a lower court to determine which of the charges facing the former president involves official or unofficial conduct.

A US District Court will now hold what is expected to be a series of lengthy pre-trial hearings, making a trial before the November election extremely unlikely.

Trump is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States as well as conspiracy to obstruct and obstruction of an official proceeding — the January 6, 2021 joint session of Congress held to certify Biden’s victory.

He is also charged with conspiracy to deny Americans the right to vote and to have their votes counted.

The three liberal justices dissented, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor saying she was doing so “with fear for our democracy.”

“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,” Sotomayor said. “In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.”

“”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,” she said.

– ‘Big win’ –

The 78-year-old Trump, in a post on Truth Social, welcomed the ruling calling it a “big win for our Constitution and democracy.”

Biden’s reelection campaign team countered that Trump “thinks he’s above the law and is willing to do anything to gain and hold onto power for himself.”

“Donald Trump snapped after he lost the 2020 election and encouraged a mob to overthrow the results,” the Biden campaign said in a reference to the storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters.

Trump’s original trial date in the election case had been March 4.

But the Supreme Court — dominated by conservatives, including the three appointed by Trump — agreed in February to hear his argument for absolute presidential immunity, putting the case on hold while they considered the matter in April.

Facing four criminal cases, Trump has been doing everything in his power to delay the trials at least until after the election.

On May 30, a New York jury convicted Trump on felony charges of falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal in the final stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, making Trump the first former US president ever convicted of a crime.

His sentencing will take place on July 11.

By filing a blizzard of pre-trial motions, Trump’s lawyers have managed to put on hold the three other trials, which deal with his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results and hoarding top-secret documents at his home in Florida.

If reelected, Trump could, once sworn in as president in January 2025, order the federal trials against him closed.