Supreme Court rules that Trump has some presidential immunity from criminal prosecution

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that former President Donald Trump is entitled to some presidential immunity from criminal prosecution in the federal election interference case against him.

In a highly anticipated 6-3 decision in Trump v. United States, the justices decided that Trump does not have the broad presidential immunity that he has claimed to have, but he does have protection for official acts. The court concluded that Trump does not have immunity for unofficial or private acts taken while in office. The biggest question that needs to be answered now is what, exactly, constitutes official versus unofficial acts. For that, the justices remanded the case back down to the lower courts to sort out.

Trump praised the high court’s decision on his Truth Social platform and wrote in all caps, “Big win for our Constitution and democracy. Proud to be an American!"

President Biden, in an evening address from the White House, sharply criticized the ruling.

"For all practical purposes, today's decision almost certainly means that there are virtually no limits to what a president can do," Biden said, adding that it was a "dangerous precedent."

If Trump is reelected in November, Biden said, he would be "more emboldened to do whatever he pleases."

Read the Supreme Court ruling here:

🧑‍⚖️ What the justices said

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, with the other five conservative justices concurring. Liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented.

“The President enjoys no immunity for his unofficial acts, and not everything the President does is official,” Roberts wrote. “The President is not above the law. But under our system of separated powers, the President may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers, and he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for his official acts.”

Roberts also wrote that the trial court will have to determine which aspects of Trump’s alleged conduct, for which he has been charged in the federal election subversion case, are immune from prosecution.

“We accordingly remand to the District Court to determine in the first instance — with the benefit of briefing we lack — whether Trump’s conduct in this area qualifies as official or unofficial,” Roberts wrote.

The chief justice also made clear that the lower courts cannot take into account Trump’s motives when determining the difference between official versus unofficial acts while in office.

“Such an inquiry would risk exposing even the most obvious instances of official conduct to judicial examination on the mere allegation of improper purpose, thereby intruding on the Article II interests that immunity seeks to protect,” Roberts wrote.

In addition, anything the lower court determines to be an official act while Trump was in office cannot be used as evidence against the former president during trial.

"Presidents cannot be indicted based on conduct for which they are immune from prosecution. On remand, the District Court must carefully analyze the indictment’s remaining allegations to determine whether they too involve conduct for which a President must be immune from prosecution," Roberts wrote.

👑 A scathing dissent claims a president is now ‘king above the law’

A person holds a placard outside the U.S. Supreme Court that reads: Plotting to overturn an election is not an official act, it's a crime!
A person holds a placard outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday following the court's ruling on former President Donald Trump's bid for immunity from federal prosecution on charges in his federal election interference case. (Kevin Mohatt/Reuters)

Sotomayor issued a scathing dissent in which she expressed concerns over a U.S. president’s abuse of power. “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,” Sotomayor wrote.

“Let the President violate the law, let him exploit the trappings of his office for personal gain, let him use his official power for evil ends. Because if he knew that he may one day face liability for breaking the law, he might not be as bold and fearless as we would like him to be. That is the majority’s message today.”

Sotomayor added, “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.”

🔎 What the ruling means

Overall, this is a strategic win for Trump. Special counsel Jack Smith’s Jan. 6 criminal case against Trump will be delayed, as the case was remanded back to the trial judge, Tanya Chutkan. She needs to apply these new definitions of immunity to assess whether Trump’s trial can proceed in Washington, D.C.

This will likely delay the trial until after the 2024 election. If Trump wins the election, as president he could either pardon himself in this federal case or appoint an attorney general who would drop the case against him.

🗣️ Reactions to the decision

A senior campaign official for President Biden issued a statement in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling saying in part, “Today’s ruling doesn’t change the facts, so 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.”

Staunch Trump allies — and his vice presidential hopefuls — celebrated Monday’s decision and considered it a win for the former president.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York called it a “historic victory,” while Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio called it a “massive win” for Trump in a social media post.

⬅️ How we got here

Trump asked the high court to decide whether he could claim presidential immunity in special counsel Jack Smith’s federal election subversion case for his alleged role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Smith’s August 2023 indictment of Trump includes both official and private acts of the former president.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the four felony counts against him and sought to have the charges thrown out. He argued that he was immune from criminal prosecution because the actions he took were within the scope of his official acts as president, not private acts.

Meanwhile, Smith asked the high court to dismiss Trump’s claims of sweeping presidential immunity. The special prosecutor argued that Trump’s alleged Jan. 6 actions are fair game for criminal prosecution because they were done for personal gain as a candidate to benefit his presidential campaign, rather than a president taking action for the country. “The effective functioning of the presidency does not require that a former president be immune from accountability for these alleged violations of federal criminal law,” Smith had written in a brief to the high court.

Smith had urged the court to prevent the former president from delaying a trial until after the November election.