Supreme Court rules 6-3 that Trump has immunity from prosecution for "official" acts

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that former president Donald Trump has "absolute immunity" from prosecution for official acts as president, with the stipulation that courts must distinguish between what were official and unofficial actions. The case was decided 6-3, on ideological lines.

"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. There is no immunity for unofficial acts," says the ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, without defining what constitutes an official act.

This makes it unclear whether the ruling applies specifically to Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, in which he was beaten by Democrat Joe Biden. A lower court already rejected his claim of presidential immunity from prosecution, leading to an appeal to the Supreme Court, which now goes back to the lower courts to resolve the question of officiality.

Trump's trial on election interference charges was originally scheduled in March, but was delayed until the Supreme Court weighed in. Legal analysts will quickly examine the ruling to see if it impacts Trump's other criminal cases, which include charges for refusing to return secret documents he took from the White House, and a state-level election interference claim in Georgia.

Trump's strategy has been to delay, and he has been broadly successful in the most serious cases—it is reportedly unlikely that he will go to trial on any further cases before the November election. The same is surely now true of this one, too.

He was, though, convicted in June on many charges of lying in financial disclosures about paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence about an alleged affair the two had. He will be sentenced on those charges on July 11; legal experts don't expect much jail time, if any.

Trump lost two civil actions to writer E Jean Carroll, who accused him of raping her in the 1990s and subsequently with defaming her. He was also found liable in a $464m civil fraud trial for lying about the value of his properties in loan applications.

During arguments earlier this year, Justice Elena Kagan, one of the court's three liberal justices, asked if presidential immunity would extend to allowing a coup. Trump lawyer Dean Sauer replied that it would "depend on the circumstances".

Justice Sotormayor's dissent today is not a question: "The President is now a king above the law."

"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. Even if these nightmare scenarios never play out, and I pray they never do, the damage has been done. 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."   

"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."