Supreme Court rules Trump has absolute immunity for some official acts, but not unofficial ones

This ruling may undermine Special Counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution against Trump in Washington, D.C.

Published: July 1, 2024 10:34am

Updated: July 1, 2024 12:03pm

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 Thursday that former President Donald Trump is immune from federal prosecution for some official acts he took while in office, but the justice made clear that there is no immunity for unofficial acts.

"Under our constitutional structure of separated powers, the nature of Presidential power entitles a former President to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority. And he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion. 

This ruling may undermine Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution against Trump, in Washington, D.C., for his actions related to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot and will likely cause further delays as the lower court will now have to determine which acts alleged in his indictment constitute official or private acts before the case can move forward.

You can read the ruling below: 

This is the first time the Supreme Court has ever considered whether a president can be criminally liable for actions taken while in office. 

Smith charged Trump last August on four counts related to his conduct on January 6, including a conspiracy to defraud the United States, a conspiracy to corruptly obstruct and impede the January 6 congressional proceeding, and a conspiracy against the right to vote, a civil rights offense.

Trump headlined a "Stop the Steal" rally on that day, during which Congress was to certify the results of his failed 2020 reelection bid, urging attendees to go to the Capitol and "fight like hell." 

In April, Trump argued that the president should enjoy absolute immunity for any official acts while in office and that the immunity would continue to apply after a president left office for those actions. Therefore, the president’s actions on January 6 would be covered under the definition.

In October, Trump asked U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan who is overseeing the trial to dismiss the case on these grounds, but she rejected the argument.

An appeals court ruled the same in February, saying for the purposes of the case, “former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” the Associated Press reported. This decision propelled the case to the high court. 

The federal case against the former president has been delayed while the court deliberated. 

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