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Supreme Court Defends ‘Absolute Immunity’ for a President's Official Acts

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 yesterday in favor of former President Donald Trump, that Presidents have “absolute immunity” for their official actions. Trump has been charged with offenses related to the 2020 election, that he was in a conspiracy to overturn the results, that he tried to obstruct the processing of the election vote, and also of its certification, by spreading “knowingly false claims.” The Court decision means that Trump’s communications during the January 6, 2021 incursion into the Capitol, including his tweets to the public and his discussions with Vice President Mike Pence (in particular, on his presiding over the certification) were fully within his official actions and duties.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority decision, stating: “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.”

At the same time, lower courts were left with the power and the obligation to determine if and when a President is engaged in unofficial actions, for which he or she does not have immunity. However, the lower courts had limits on this power: “In dividing official from unofficial conduct, courts may not inquire into the President’s motives. The President is not above the law. But under our system of separated powers, the President may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers, and he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for his official acts.”

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