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US Supreme Court sends Trump immunity appeal to lower court

Published July 1, 2024last updated July 1, 2024

The US Supreme Court has ruled a former president has immunity for acts carried out in an official capacity. The ruling relates to his prosecution for the January 6 Capitol riots.

Former US President Donald Trump during an appearance in the at Manhattan Criminal Court, Thursday, May 30, 2024
Trump has argued he is immune because he was president when he took the actions at issueImage: Seth Wenig/AP/picture alliance

Justices in the US Supreme Court Thursday ruled on an appeal by former US President Donald Trump regarding his claimed immunity from prosecution over his alleged efforts to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election.

Trump appealed after a lower court rejected his bid for protection from a federal criminal case.

The Supreme Court judges rejected the lower court's ruling and sent the case back to them but did not give a clear ruling on whether Trump was, in fact, immune from prosecution.

However, the decision will mean that a trial before the November election is now highly unlikely.

Supreme Court rules Trump partially immune: DW's Janelle Dumalaon

What did the Supreme Court judges say?

The ruling, voted through 6-3 on partisan lines in the chamber, found that former presidents have absolute immunity from prosecution for their official acts — and no immunity for unofficial acts.

However, the justices did not outline what separates official and unofficial acts, which is to say acts carried out in a private capacity, referring that decision instead to the lower court.

A statement of the ruling said that a president "is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts. There is no immunity for unofficial acts." 

Trump celebrates 'big win'

The former president, who is also the current presumptive Republican nominee for this year's White House run, celebrated the decision on social media.

"Big win for our constitution and democracy. Proud to be an American!" he wrote on his Truth Social platform.

His expected opponent is current President Joe Biden, setting the stage for a rematch of the 2020 election.

Biden's campaign commented that Trump "thinks he's above the law" following the ruling.

Biden-Trump debate: Voters underwhelmed by TV clash

Election expert David Becker called Monday's ruling "deeply disturbing," the Associated Press reported.

"Almost anything that a president does with the executive branch is characterized as an official act," he said on a call with reporters following the ruling.

"I think putting aside this particular prosecution, for any unscrupulous individual holding the seat of the Oval Office who might lose an election, the way I read this opinion is it could be a road map for them seeking to stay in power."

Biden condemns 'fundamentally new principle'

In a speech at the White House on Monday, Biden slammed the court ruling.

"For all practical purposes, today's decision almost certainly means there are no limits to what a president can do. This is a fundamentally new principle, and it's a dangerous precedent," he said.

Biden used this point in his pitch to voters ahead of the presidential election.

"The American people must decide if they want to entrust... once again, the presidency to Donald Trump, now knowing he'll be more emboldened to do whatever he pleases, whenever he wants to do it," Biden said.

What we know about the case

Trump had argued that US presidents are immune from prosecution for official acts they took in office and that the indictment he faces on charges of election interference must be dismissed.

The 78-year-old, who is in a tight rematch race against White House incumbent Joe Biden for the November 5 election, nominated three of the six conservatives on the nine-member court.

Conservative justices had previously voiced concern about presidents lacking any level of immunity.

While the Supreme Court has previously ruled that ex-presidents can't be sued in civil cases for their actions in the Oval Office, it has never previously pronounced on criminal immunity.

Trump's trial in Washington, DC, on the indictment by Special Counsel Jack Smith will most likely not happen before the November election, especially since the lower courts must now rule on whether his actions were carried out in his official role as president.

Trump faces indictments in four cases, in both federal and state courts. The other federal case, brought by the same special counsel, relates to allegedly mishandling classified documents.

One of the state cases is about alleged election interference in Georgia. The other concerns Trump's role in a hush-money scheme involving a porn star, for which he has already been convicted of a felony and faces sentencing in July.

Trump to appeal against 'hush money' verdict

zc, ab, rc/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)