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Trump Has Partial Immunity From Prosecution, US Supreme Court Rules

The US Supreme Court has said Donald Trump and other former presidents are partially immune from criminal prosecution, in a ruling that he immediately hailed as a “big win”.

The justices found 6-3 that a president does have immunity for “official acts” taken in office, but he is not immune for “unofficial acts”.

The court’s majority said it was for the trial judge to work out which allegations constitute official acts in the indictment, under which Trump is charged with plotting to overturn the 2020 election.

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The three liberal justices dissented strongly.

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“The President is now a king above the law,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor, expressing “fear for our democracy”.

The decision makes it less likely that the Republican presidential candidate will stand trial in the case before he challenges Democratic President Joe Biden November’s White House election.

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Special Counsel Jack Smith, who filed the indictment, declined to comment on Monday’s hotly anticipated decision.

Trump had argued that he was entitled to absolute immunity from the charges, but two lower courts rejected that claim.

The majority opinion by the highest court in the land tossed out or placed a question mark over key elements of the indictment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that a president’s discussions with the Department of Justice are official acts of the presidency, and he or she is therefore “absolutely immune” from prosecution for such interactions.

The indictment alleges Trump pressured the law-enforcement agency to investigate claims – which were found to be unsubstantiated – that widespread fraud had affected the election result.

Justice Roberts also wrote that a president’s discussions with his vice-president are also official conduct, and Trump is therefore “at least presumptively immune” from allegations that he tried to pressure Mike Pence not to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

“Under our constitutional structure of separated powers,” Justice Roberts wrote, “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,” the ruling says.

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor argued that the ruling would protect a president if he or she ordered US special forces to assassinate a political rival, organised a military coup to hold on to power, or took bribes in exchange for conferring a pardon.

Justice Jackson wrote in a separate dissent that the conservative majority’s ruling “breaks new and dangerous ground” and would “let down the guardrails of the law”.

But Justice Roberts wrote that the “tone of chilling doom” from the dissenters was “wholly disproportionate”.

He wrote that immunity extends to the “outer perimeter” of the president’s official responsibilities, setting a higher bar for prosecution.

“In dividing official from unofficial conduct, courts may not inquire into the president’s motives,” Justice Roberts wrote. “Nor may courts deem an action unofficial merely because it allegedly violates a generally applicable law.”


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