What the Supreme Court’s Immunity Decision Means for Trump’s Criminal Cases

The Supreme Court on Monday provided former President Donald Trump with significant legal protection against prosecution for actions taken during his tenure in the Oval Office.

In a ruling split along ideological lines, the Justices held that Presidents enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts but remain susceptible to charges for unofficial conduct—a decision that has profound implications for Trump's pending criminal cases, particularly those stemming from his efforts to challenge the 2020 election results.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said that a President “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.” In doing so, the Supreme Court left it up to the lower court to review which conduct is protected and immune from prosecution.

Read More: Supreme Court Rules Trump and Former Presidents Have Some Immunity for Official Acts

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a fiery dissent joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, criticized the majority's stance, arguing that it elevates the President above the law and undermines accountability.

While the case is a landmark ruling on the powers of the American presidency, it will have immediate effects for Trump, the first former President in history to be indicted. At issue in the Supreme Court case was the charges brought by the Justice Department over Trump’s alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election, but he’s also facing two other criminal cases in Florida and Georgia, and he’s already been convicted in one in New York.

Here’s what to know about the next steps in Trump’s election interference case and how the ruling may affect all of the charges he faces.

The Jack Smith election interference case

Instead of dismissing the federal election interference case, the Supreme Court sent certain elements of the indictment back to a lower court to review which conduct is protected and immune from prosecution.

The Supreme Court offered some specific guidance on the conduct at issue in the case, which was brought by special counsel Jack Smith. Roberts wrote for the conservative majority that Trump is “absolutely immune” from prosecution for his alleged conduct relating to conversations with Justice Department officials about launching investigations into election fraud and potential fraudulent slates of electors. But the Supreme Court didn’t offer answers on other conduct alleged in Smith’s indictment, writing that further proceedings at the lower court level are needed to determine whether Trump can be prosecuted for his alleged attempt to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Electoral College vote, and his interactions with state officials, private people, and voters about election fraud and the violence on Jan. 6.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing that case and was appointed by former President Barack Obama, will be tasked with sifting through the allegations in the indictment to separate Trump’s official acts as President from private ones, when he was acting as a presidential candidate. Those acts include conversations Trump had with people outside the federal government, including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who famously rejected Trump’s pressure to “find” enough votes to flip the state’s 2020 vote.

Norm Eisen, a senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution and former counsel to the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s first impeachment, says that we may see an evidentiary hearing, or a “mini trial,” take place this summer or fall that allows Chutkan to hear witness testimony and receive other relevant evidence.

Sending these questions back to a lower court all but guarantees that the trial in this case will be delayed until after voters decide in November whether to return Trump to the White House. And if Trump wins the election and returns to the White House, he could order the Justice Department to drop its case against him.

The other cases

Trump has claimed that the Supreme Court’s ruling should put an end to all four of his criminal cases, and his lawyers will likely use the ruling to argue that the cases should be dismissed because they involved official conduct Trump undertook as President.

The ruling may already have affected the sentencing timeline in Trump’s recent state criminal conviction in New York on 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Trump had been scheduled for criminal sentencing in that case on July 11, but the date was pushed to Sept. 18 so both sides can present arguments about how the Supreme Court ruling could influence the New York case.

Legal experts are skeptical that the conviction will be set aside because of the Supreme Court’s ruling. “I don’t see paying off a porn star and falsifying business records as anything other than personal capacity,” says Claire Finkelstein, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Read More: What Happens Next Now That Trump Has Been Convicted? Your Questions, Answered

The high court’s ruling could impact Trump’s state election-interference trial in Georgia led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who charged Trump and 14 of his allies in a sprawling racketeering indictment for allegedly attempting to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results. The indictment claims that Trump pressured state officials to tamper with vote counts and organized a fake slate of pro-Trump electors. Trump’s lawyers have asserted presidential immunity in that case, though there has been no ruling from Judge Scott McAfee yet and an appeals court recently halted that case while it reviews Willis’ involvement. (Any decision by McAfee on presidential immunity would likely be appealed.)

The indictment in that case holds that Trump had conversations with people outside the federal government, including Raffensperger—alleged conduct also in Smith’s indictment. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling allows the federal district court overseeing the Smith case to determine whether or not that act—and other similar conduct in the indictment—qualifies as official or unofficial, the ruling could have bearing on the proceedings in Georgia, too.

It’s less clear whether the Supreme Court’s ruling would affect Trump’s federal prosecution in Florida for allegedly retaining classified documents after leaving the White House and obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them, Finkelstein says. Trump has argued that the charges in this case should also be thrown out on the grounds that he is entitled to sweeping presidential immunity. U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, is yet to rule on that claim, but the special counsel’s team is likely to argue that the conduct in the indictment—illegally retaining classified information—occurred after Trump left office and therefore is not entitled to immunity, Finkelstein says.

Write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com.