Trump hails ‘big win’ as Supreme Court gives him partial immunity

The US Supreme Court has ruled that Donald Trump is partially immune from prosecution for actions taken while he was in the White House.

The decision, which states that the former president is entitled to some degree of immunity from criminal prosecution, significantly reduces the likelihood of another pre-election trial.

Posting on social media platform Truth Social, Trump said: “Big win for our constitution and democracy. Proud to be an American.”

Joe Biden criticised the ruling, saying: “This nation was founded on the principle that there are no kings in America.”

The US President said the Supreme Court justices had set “a dangerous precedent (that) undermines the rule of this nation.”

Citing accepted restraints on presidential power dating back to George Washington, he said that “for all practical purposes, today’s decision almost certainly means that there are virtually no limits on what a president can do.”

The court found that Trump is entitled to claim “absolute immunity” from criminal prosecution for “official acts” taken as president, but is not immune for “unofficial acts”, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the decision.

The document stipulates that courts would need to distinguish between what were official and unofficial actions, which will send Mr Trump’s immunity case back to a lower court in Washington, dimming any prospects that the criminal case alleging that Trump plotted to stop the transfer of power will proceed before the 2024 election.

The ruling also means that “official acts” such as conversations with officials may not be considered as evidence in any criminal trial, which could make it much harder for Special Council Jack Smith to demonstrate Trump’s motive.

Trump could still face charges for conduct undertaken in a personal or private manner, although any proceedings of that nature are likely to be after the election in November.

In a statement, a senior Biden campaign adviser responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling: “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.

“Trump is already running for president as a convicted felon for the very same reason he sat idly by while the mob violently attacked the Capitol: he thinks he’s above the law and is willing to do anything to gain and hold onto power for himself.”

The ruling rejects a decision from a federal appeals court in February that found Trump enjoyed no immunity for alleged crimes he committed during his presidency. The Supreme Court’s decision was split along ideological lines, with the conservative justices leading the six to three split decision.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing in dissent, said the court’s decision in the Trump immunity case “makes a mockery of the principle … that no man is above the law.

She added: “Today’s decision to grant former Presidents criminal immunity reshapes the institution of the Presidency. It makes a mockery of the principle, foundational to our Constitution and system of Government, that no man is above the law.”

The embattled former president is facing three outstanding criminal trials, after being found guilty of all 34 counts of falsifying business records in a hush-money scheme to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

The ruling follows Trump’s request in April for the court to accept a broad immunity argument, claiming that a president has absolute immunity for official acts while in office, which extends even after leaving office.

Trump and his legal counsel argued that these protections covered his alleged efforts to prevent the transfer of power after losing the 2020 election.

Special counsel Mr Smith countered that only sitting presidents have immunity from criminal prosecution, and that Trump’s expansive interpretation would “free the President from virtually all criminal law — even crimes such as bribery, murder, treason, and sedition”.

Lower courts were previously dismissive of Trump’s arguments, and the former president has already lost two challenges related to the matter.

“Whatever immunities a sitting President may enjoy, the United States has only one Chief Executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass. Former Presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability,” US District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the case, wrote in a December decision.

“Defendant’s four-year service as Commander in Chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens,” she added.

Lower courts will now have to decide which unofficial actions do not receive immunity.