How Supreme Court’s Immunity Decision Will Impact Donald Trump’s Criminal Cases

Republican nominee Donald Trump is immune from prosecution for actions taken within his constitutional powers while in office, ruled the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on Monday.

The decision delays the criminal case against the former US President, who was indicted on charges related to his alleged involvement in attempting to overturn his 2020 presidential election loss and inciting the US Capitol riots on January 6, 2021.


In August 2023, federal prosecutors charged Donald Trump with four felonies related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results. The indictment accused Trump of spreading false claims of widespread fraud and attempting to block the election certification on January 6, 2021. 

Trump has consistently challenged the prosecution, calling it unfair and politically motivated. He has sought to delay the trial until after the 2024 presidential election and argued that presidents are immune from criminal liability for their actions in office.

After two lower courts rejected Trump’s claim of presidential immunity, he appealed to the Supreme Court. The high court’s ruling on Trump’s immunity claim has significant implications for the case and potentially sets a precedent for future presidential accountability.

What the ruling says

The Supreme Court has ruled in Trump v United States that a president is immune from criminal prosecution for actions taken within their official capacity, but not for personal actions. This means that a president cannot be prosecuted for performing their official duties, such as issuing pardons or signing bills, but can still be held accountable for personal actions unrelated to their official duties.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that “the President therefore may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers, and he is entitled, at a minimum, to a presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts.” 

The court’s three liberal justices disagreed with the decision, arguing that making a president immune from prosecution makes them “a king above the law.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the ruling sends a message that a president can “violate the law, exploit the trappings of his office for personal gain, use his official power for evil ends” without fear of accountability.

Official vs unofficial acts

The SCOTUS defines a President’s actions as either official or unofficial. Official actions are those that use the President’s core powers, such as issuing pardons or signing bills. These actions are fully protected and immune from prosecution. Other official actions are those that are related to the President’s official duties, but may not be directly tied to core constitutional powers. These actions fall within the “outer perimeter of official responsibility” and have presumed immunity.

On the other hand, unofficial actions include personal business dealings or criminal activities. These actions have no immunity and can be prosecuted.  

The Court examines the President’s role and relationship to determine the category an action fits into, which is important in determining the limits of presidential immunity.

What the immunity means for Trump’s criminal cases

The Counsel will have to wait for the lower district court to determine which of Trump’s actions are considered official or unofficial, a process that will take time. This means that the likelihood of the case going to trial before the November elections is slim.

The ruling also has broader implications for the presidency and future cases. According to Steve Vladeck, an expert in constitutional law, the decision “tilts even more power toward the office of the presidency, whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican.” This means that the presidency will have more immunity and power, making it harder for Congress, the courts and the people to hold presidents accountable for wrongdoing.

Impeachment becomes the only option for accountability, a process that is already weak and may not be effective in a president’s second term. Mr Vladeck noted that the ruling essentially gives the presidency a “get-out-of-jail-free” pass, which makes it harder to investigate and prosecute presidents for wrongdoing, setting a dangerous precedent for future cases.

Enable Notifications OK No thanks