Reactions and Highlights of the Supreme Court Decision on Trump’s Immunity (2024)

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Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

Here are some key excerpts from the Supreme Court ruling on presidential immunity.

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The Supreme Court declared on Monday that former presidents have immunity for their official actions, upending the case against Donald J. Trump over his attempts to subvert his 2020 election loss.

OPINION OF THE COURT

We conclude that under our constitutional structure of separated powers, the nature of Presidential power requires that a former President have some immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts during his tenure in office. At least with respect to the President’s exercise of his core constitutional powers, this immunity must be absolute. As for his remaining official actions, he is also entitled to immunity. At the current stage of proceedings in this case, however, we need not and do not decide whether that immunity must be absolute, or instead whether a presumptive immunity is sufficient.

In the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the conservative supermajority explained that Congress has no authority to pass criminal laws regulating powers that the Constitution assigns exclusively to presidents. Where the two branches share overlapping authority, presidents may or may not have immunity depending on whether applying criminal law to those specific facts would dangerously intrude on the functions of the executive branch.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Taking into account these competing considerations, we conclude that the separation of powers principles explicated in our precedent necessitate at least a presumptive immunity from criminal prosecution for a President’s acts within the outer perimeter of his official responsibility. Such an immunity is required to safeguard the independence and effective functioning of the Executive Branch, and to enable the President to carry out his constitutional duties without undue caution.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by her liberal colleagues, wrote a vehement dissent, portraying the ruling as a sharp expansion of presidential power — not just for Mr. Trump but for all presidents. She cited the famous World War II ruling that upheld the internment of Japanese Americans in the West to invoke the fear that presidents may feel freer to abuse their power.

Justice Sotomayor dissent

Looking beyond the fate of this particular prosecution, the long-term consequences of today’s decision are stark. The court effectively creates a law-free zone around the president, upsetting the status quo that has existed since the founding. This new official-acts immunity now ‘lies about like a loaded weapon’ for any president that wishes to place his own interests, his own political survival, or his own financial gain, above the interests of the nation.

At earlier stages of the Trump case, lower court judges had ruled that Mr. Trump had no immunity from prosecution over the allegations in the indictment regardless of whether the acts were official or unofficial. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Federal District Court judge who would oversee any trial, Tanya S. Chutkan, to conduct that analysis. The majority, however, declared that Mr. Trump is clearly immune from prosecution for his alleged interactions with Justice Department officials in trying to enlist their help in overturning the 2020 election.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Certain allegations — such as those involving Trump’s discussions with the Acting Attorney General — are readily categorized in light of the nature of the President’s official relationship to the office held by that individual. Other allegations — such as those involving Trump’s interactions with the Vice President, state officials, and certain private parties, and his comments to the general public — present more difficult questions. Although we identify several considerations pertinent to classifying those allegations and determining whether they are subject to immunity, that analysis ultimately is best left to the lower courts to perform in the first instance.

Even as Chief Justice Roberts wrote that a president talking to a vice president counted as an official act, he suggested that it might not qualify for immunity in the context of Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on his vice president at the time, Mike Pence, to disrupt the certification of Electoral College votes. He noted that Congress has legislated extensively to define the vice president’s role in that task and that the president plays no direct part in it, suggesting that allowing a prosecution based on that act would not unduly impair executive branch functions. By contrast, the chief justice suggested that another context — a president talking to a vice president about casting a tiebreaking 51st vote in the Senate on legislation that is part of the White House’s agenda, for example — more likely would be immune. But he still left that issue to Judge Chutkan to consider.

Opinion of the court

It is ultimately the government’s burden to rebut the presumption of immunity. We therefore remand to the district court to assess in the first instance, with appropriate input from the parties, whether a prosecution involving Trump’s alleged attempts to influence the vice president’s oversight of the certification proceeding in his capacity as president of the Senate would pose any dangers of intrusion on the authority and functions of the executive branch.

During oral arguments, a Justice Department lawyer had suggested that even if the court were to rule that presidents are immune for official acts, prosecutors should still be able to introduce evidence about Mr. Trump’s official acts to help the jury understand the unofficial ones that would be the basis of charges. If so, a ruling that presidents have immunity for official actions would not have been particularly disruptive to the case prosecutors want to present to the jury. But in a major victory for Mr. Trump, Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion ruled out letting prosecutors use testimony or records about any official acts that are subject to immunity.

Opinion of the court

If official conduct for which the president is immune may be scrutinized to help secure his conviction, even on charges that purport to be based only on his unofficial conduct, the ‘intended effect’ of immunity would be defeated.

One of the court’s six conservatives, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, split from her colleagues on that issue. In a concurring opinion, she said she agreed with the three liberal judges in dissent that prosecutors should be allowed to use such evidence under certain circ*mstances. As an example, she pointed to a hypothetical bribery case, saying it would “hamstring the prosecution” not to be able to tell the jury about an official act that an ex-president had taken a bribe to perform.

Justice Barrett concurring in part

Yet excluding from trial any mention of the official act connected to the bribe would hamstring the prosecution. To make sense of charges alleging a quid pro quo, the jury must be allowed to hear about both the quid and the quo, even if the quo, standing alone, could not be a basis for the President's criminal liability.

In a footnote, Chief Justice Roberts addressed Justice Barrett, saying “of course” prosecutors could tell the jury that a president had taken an official act in a bribery case; they just could not present documents and testimony inviting the jury to scrutinize a president’s motivation and the legitimacy of that official action.

The five-justice majority’s declaration that official actions that are subject to presidential immunity cannot be used as evidence could matter for evidence about the inflammatory speech Mr. Trump delivered to his followers ahead of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol or any of his postings on Twitter leading up to the 2021 riot. It is established that speech that is protected by the First Amendment can be used as evidence about a defendant’s related crimes. But while leaving the first crack to Judge Chutkan, Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion raised the possibility that Mr. Trump’s words may count as official actions; and so would apparently be inadmissible at trial.

OPINION OF THE COURT

He is even expected to comment on those matters of public concern that may not directly implicate the activities of the Federal Government — for instance, to comfort the Nation in the wake of an emergency or tragedy. For these reasons, most of a President’s public communications are likely to fall comfortably within the outer perimeter of his official responsibilities. There may, however, be contexts in which the President, notwithstanding the prominence of his position, speaks in an unofficial capacity — perhaps as a candidate for office or party leader. To the extent that may be the case, objective analysis of “content, form, and context” will necessarily inform the inquiry. Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U. S. 443, 453. But “there is not always a clear line between [the President’s] personal and official affairs.” Mazars, 591 U. S., at 868. The analysis therefore must be fact specific and may prove to be challenging.

Reactions and Highlights of the Supreme Court Decision on Trump’s Immunity (2)

July 1, 2024, 1:39 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 1:39 p.m. ET

Simon J. Levien

A member of the 2024-25 Times Fellowship class, covering politics

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on X that the court has been “consumed by a corruption crisis.” She pledged to file articles of impeachment against the justices, though she did not specify which. The last time a Supreme Court justice was successfully impeached was in 1804, and it would require that she and her fellow Democrats win significant support from Republicans, who control the House, to even bring any impeachment to a vote.

July 1, 2024, 1:25 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 1:25 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Domestic correspondent based in Atlanta

The Supreme Court’s immunity ruling will also reverberate in Fulton County, Ga., where Trump and 14 of his allies have been criminally charged in a sprawling racketeering indictment. In January, Trump’s Georgia lawyers filed a motion arguing that the case should be dismissed on immunity grounds. But prosecutors have been waiting on the Supreme Court, and have said they will file a response to Trump within two weeks of the issuance of the immunity ruling.

July 1, 2024, 1:27 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 1:27 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Domestic correspondent based in Atlanta

The Georgia case has also been stalled by a pretrial appeal over the issue of whether the Fulton County district attorney, Fani T. Willis, should step down from the case because of her romantic involvement with a lawyer she hired to manage the prosecution. The state appellate court is not expected to rule on the matter until after the November presidential election.

Read the Supreme Court’s Ruling on ImmunityThe court rules that former presidents have absolute immunity for core constitutional powers, and are also entitled to at least a presumption of immunity for official acts.

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July 1, 2024, 1:07 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 1:07 p.m. ET

Maggie Astor

Republicans responded to the ruling with triumph, and Democrats with dismay.

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In reactions mirroring the ideological split of the Supreme Court justices in their ruling granting presidents immunity for official actions, Republicans expressed triumph on Monday and Democrats dismay.

Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio was the first of former President Donald J. Trump’s top running-mate contenders to weigh in, calling the decision “a massive win, not just for Trump but the rule of law.”

Other Republicans also praised the ruling as a rejection of what they characterized as Democrats’ using the government against Mr. Trump for political purposes.

Senator Steve Daines of Montana, who leads Republicans’ Senate campaign arm, said the Supreme Court had ended a “sad chapter of Joe Biden’s weaponization of the Justice Department.” Stephen Miller, a top Trump adviser, called the decision “another setback for the Democrat Party’s illegal and unconstitutional crusade to outlaw dissent, jail the opposition leader, impose authoritarian rule, replace democracy with the deep state and liberty with leftwing oligarchy.”

The Justice Department operates independently of the president, and there is no evidence that President Biden has had any involvement in its prosecution decisions.

Mr. Trump wants to eliminate the department’s independence and has called for prosecuting his political opponents, purging federal agencies of civil servants who might oppose his policies and greatly expanding executive power.

Democrats expressed fear for the future of American democracy, as Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson did in their dissenting opinion. “Simply frightening. May God have mercy on this nation,” Jaime Harrison, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, wrote alongside Justice Sotomayor’s quote: “With fear for our democracy, I dissent.”

Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Quentin Fulks, said on a call with reporters that the Supreme Court had “handed Donald Trump the keys to a dictatorship.” Shortly before that, the Biden campaign put out a statement saying that the ruling did not change the facts of Mr. Trump’s actions leading up to and on Jan. 6, 2021: “Donald Trump snapped after he lost the 2020 election and encouraged a mob to overthrow the results of a free and fair election,” it said.

“Our democracy has been gravely wounded,” Eric H. Holder Jr., who served as attorney general under President Barack Obama, wrote in a post on social media, saying the Supreme Court had given presidents free rein to commit crimes. “There is no basis in the Constitution for this Court constructed monstrosity.”

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said the Supreme Court had been “consumed by a corruption crisis” and pledged to file articles of impeachment, though she did not specify against which justices. Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas have been under scrutiny because a flag associated with the “Stop the Steal” movement flew outside Justice Alito’s house after the 2020 election, and Justice Thomas’s wife was involved with efforts to overturn the election.

Supreme Court justices can be impeached, but only one has been — more than 200 years ago — and Republicans currently control the House.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, called Monday “a sad day for America” and added, “Treason or incitement of an insurrection should not be considered a core constitutional power afforded to a president.”

The district court judge overseeing Mr. Trump’s trial in Washington will have to determine whether his specific actions are protected under the ruling. That will take time and very likely delay a trial past the election — at which point, if Mr. Trump wins, he could order the Justice Department to end the case.

“I don’t see how this case could go forward before the election,” Alina Habba, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said on Fox News.

Outside groups focused on democracy also condemned the ruling.

“The Court has issued an instruction manual for lawbreaking presidents,” said Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “Make sure you conspire only with other government employees. You’ll never be held to account.”

Michael Gold, Simon J. Levien and Mattathias Schwartz contributed reporting.

July 1, 2024, 12:40 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:40 p.m. ET

Michael Gold

Political correspondent covering the 2024 elections

The Trump campaign has already sent two fund-raising emails off the Supreme Court decision, a now standard response to developments in Trump’s legal entanglements. “Official acts cannot be illegally prosecuted - BIG WIN FOR DEMOCRACY & OUR CONSTITUTION!,” one said.

July 1, 2024, 12:39 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:39 p.m. ET

Maggie Haberman

Senior political correspondent

Trump has moved on to what was an inevitable statement from him: saying on Truth Social that the Supreme Court decision “should end” all the other court cases against him, which he has falsely tied to President Biden and paints with the same brush. He includes his criminal conviction in New York and the separate successful prosecution of his company for a decadelong fraud by the state's attorney general, Letitia James.

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July 1, 2024, 12:39 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:39 p.m. ET

Linda Qiu

Reporting from inside the Supreme Court

Anticipation and family members of some justices filled the court for the momentous decision.

The tension and sense of anticipation was palpable inside the Supreme Court on Monday morning, as the justices delivered the remaining opinions and some of the most eagerly awaited decisions of the term.

“Sorry this is not the case you’re waiting to hear so I’ll try to be concise,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett quipped, before delivering the court’s first majority opinion of the day, in a case about suing over regulations.

It was indeed not the case that most observers inside and outside the court were counting down to: on the scope and limits of presidential immunity.

In the audience was Michael Dreeben, a former deputy solicitor general who argued for the government in that case. Mr. Dreeben was greeted by several people before proceedings began, and as the justices spoke on the immunity case, he took notes on a small pad and occasionally twiddled his pen. But he showed little emotion as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. delivered the majority opinion, effectively ruling against him in deciding that presidents have some immunity from criminal prosecution.

The parents of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and the wife of Chief Justice Roberts, Jane Roberts, were also in attendance. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch was absent.

Chief Justice Roberts preemptively addressed possible criticism of the ruling as he emphasized that the decision “does not protect any particular president, but the presidency,” and added that presidential immunity did have limits.

“Saying it so doesn’t make it so,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor sharply countered at the beginning of her dissent from the bench, a rare moment that underscored her profound disagreement with the majority.

Justice Sotomayor, who dissented on behalf of the other liberal members of the court, cut a note of exasperation through her lengthy speech, seemingly to sporadically add “imagine that,” “think about that,” and “interesting, history matters right?” as she read from her written words. When discussing and rebutting the majority, she looked several times to her colleagues on her immediate left, Justice Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts. They did not return her gaze.

“We fear for democracy,” she said in conclusion.

The court then turned to lighter matters, as the chief justice concluded the term and recognized retiring workers for their service.

“On behalf of my employees — colleagues” — he said, misspeaking to laughter. “On behalf of my colleagues, I thank the employees.”

At the sound of the buzzer and prompted by a staff member, the audience then rose as the justices filed out, concluding the last day of official business until the new term in the fall.

A correction was made on

July 1, 2024

:

An earlier version of this article misstated the relatives of Supreme Court justices who attended Monday’s session. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s family was not there.

How we handle corrections

Reactions and Highlights of the Supreme Court Decision on Trump’s Immunity (10)

July 1, 2024, 12:24 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:24 p.m. ET

Simon J. Levien

A member of the 2024-25 Times Fellowship class, covering politics

In a call with reporters, the Biden campaign is using the decision to sound an alarm. “They just handed Donald Trump the keys to a dictatorship,” Quentin Fulks, the deputy campaign manager, said. “We have to do everything in our power to stop him.”

July 1, 2024, 12:23 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:23 p.m. ET

Maggie Haberman

Senior political correspondent

Senator John Barasso, who ranks third in the Senate Republican leadership, put out a statement heralding the Supreme Court decision as ending “weaponization” of the justice system.

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July 1, 2024, 12:19 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:19 p.m. ET

Linda Qiu

Reporting from inside the Supreme Court

Outside the court, there was little sense that the justices had issued a momentous decision on presidential power. TV cameras and reporters outnumbered the few protesters. A small contingent was calling to abolish the death penalty. One woman with anti-Trump flags was blasting jaunty music with the lyrics “shame on you.” And one Trump supporter wore a sign blaming Democrats for ruining his life.

July 1, 2024, 12:16 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:16 p.m. ET

Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

A vehement dissent laments a vast expansion of power that makes the president ‘a king above the law.’

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The Supreme Court’s three Democratic appointees railed in dissent against the conservative majority’s ruling that former President Donald J. Trump has some immunity for his official actions, declaring that their colleagues had made the president into “a king above the law.”

Writing that the majority was “deeply wrong,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor added that beyond its consequences for the bid to prosecute Mr. Trump for his attempt to subvert the outcome of the 2020 election, it would have “stark” long-term consequences for the future of American democracy.

“The court effectively creates a law-free zone around the president, upsetting the status quo that has existed since the founding,” she wrote, in an opinion joined by the other two Democratic appointees, Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Insulating the president of the United States — the most powerful person in the country and possibly the world, she noted — from criminal prosecution when he uses his official powers will allow him to freely use his official power to violate the law, exploit the trappings of his office for personal gain, or other “evil ends.”

“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,” she wrote, adding: “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.”

Justice Sotomayor also wrote that how the majority had applied the new standard of immunity to official acts to Mr. Trump’s case specifically was “perhaps even more troubling.” Its analysis, she added, operated as a “one-way ratchet” — helping the defense but offering no help to the prosecution.

For example, she wrote, the majority declared that all of Mr. Trump’s actions involving Vice President Mike Pence and the Justice Department counted as official conduct but did not designate any actions in the indictment as falling into the non-“core” category of official conduct that it said could be prosecuted. Nor did it designate as clearly private actions any of several things that Mr. Trump’s team had conceded looked unofficial, like Mr. Trump’s interactions with a personal lawyer.

Justice Sotomayor railed in particular that the majority had declined to rule out immunity for Mr. Trump’s role in organizing fake slates of electors, pressuring states to subvert the legitimate election results, and exploiting the violence of the Jan. 6 riot to influence the certification proceedings.

“It is not conceivable that a prosecution for these alleged efforts to overturn a presidential election, whether labeled official or unofficial under the majority’s test,” would pose any danger of intrusion on the authority and functions of the executive branch, she wrote, adding that “the majority could have said as much,” but did not.

Sometimes justices conclude their dissents with a softening and polite qualifier, writing “Respectfully, I dissent.” Justice Sotomayor instead concluded this one harshly: “With fear for our democracy, I dissent.”

A correction was made on

July 1, 2024

:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly omitted words from Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent. She wrote, “Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune,” not “Organizes a military exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune.”

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July 1, 2024, 12:10 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:10 p.m. ET

Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

While joining her five fellow Republican appointees in declaring that former presidents have immunity from criminal prosecution for their official actions, Justice Amy Coney Barrett filed a concurring opinion that nevertheless reflected some flavor of dissent.

July 1, 2024, 12:13 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:13 p.m. ET

Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

She disagreed with the majority’s holding that the Constitution does not permit prosecutors to tell a jury about an ex-president’s official actions that are relevant to some private action being charged. As an example, she pointed to a hypothetical bribery case, saying it would “hamstring the prosecution” not to be able to tell the jury what official act an ex-president took a bribe to perform.

Justice Barrett concurring in part

Yet excluding from trial any mention of the official act connected to the bribe would hamstring the prosecution. To make sense of charges alleging a quid pro quo, the jury must be allowed to hear about both the quid and the quo, even if the quo, standing alone, could not be a basis for the President's criminal liability.

July 1, 2024, 12:44 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:44 p.m. ET

Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

In a footnote of the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts addressed Justice Barrett’s example of a bribery case. He disagreed that the court’s ruling meant prosecutors could not mention any official act, saying “of course” prosecutors could point to the public record to show that a president performed the official act in question. What prosecutors may not do, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, is admit testimony or private records that would invite a jury to scrutinize the president’s motivations for the act and second-guess its propriety.

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July 1, 2024, 12:01 p.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 12:01 p.m. ET

Maggie Haberman

Senior political correspondent

In an interview with Fox News’s digital team, Trump heralded the decision as an absolute victory, although it falls somewhat short of that. He blamed Democrats for the prosecutions and said, “And now the courts have spoken.” He said he can now campaign freely. It’s worth bearing in mind that Trump is set to be sentenced in Manhattan next week on his criminal conviction for falsifying business records to cover up a hush-money payment to a p*rn star in 2016.

July 1, 2024, 11:52 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:52 a.m. ET

Adam Liptak

Reporting on the Supreme Court since 2008

Thomas and Alito took part in the case, despite calls for their recusal.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., rejecting calls for their disqualification, participated in the decision on the scope of former President Donald J. Trump’s immunity from prosecution.

Experts in legal ethics have said that the activities of the justices’ wives raised serious questions about their impartiality.

Virginia Thomas, known as Ginni, helped shape the effort to overturn the 2020 election. “Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History,” Ms. Thomas wrote in a text message to Mark Meadows, President Donald J. Trump’s chief of staff, during the fraught weeks between the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Justice Thomas has not given a public explanation for remaining on the case, and he has taken part in other cases arising from the election and the 2021 attack. But he recused himself in October from a case concerning John Eastman, a conservative lawyer who had advised Mr. Trump. Justice Thomas, for whom Mr. Eastman had served as a law clerk, gave no reasons for his decision to disqualify himself from that case.

Justice Alito has been more forthcoming. He explained why he would not recuse from the case in a letter to Democratic lawmakers in May after The New York Times reported that flags that have been used to support the “Stop the Steal” movement had been displayed at his homes in Virginia and New Jersey.

The justice said his wife, Martha-Ann, was responsible. “My wife is fond of flying flags,” he wrote. “I am not. She was solely responsible for having flagpoles put up at our residence and our vacation home and has flown a wide variety of flags over the years.”

The court recently adopted a code of conduct for the justices. It allows individual justices to make their own decisions about recusal.

One provision of the code says that “a justice is presumed impartial and has an obligation to sit unless disqualified.”

A second provision says that “a justice should disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the justice’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, that is, where an unbiased and reasonable person who is aware of all relevant circ*mstances would doubt that the justice could fairly discharge his or her duties.”

The flags displayed at his properties, Justice Alito wrote, did not require him to recuse from the case. “A reasonable person who is not motivated by political or ideological considerations or a desire to affect the outcome of Supreme Court cases,” he wrote, “would conclude this event does not meet the applicable standard for recusal.”

Indeed, he wrote, he had an obligation to sit and hear the case.

A correction was made on

July 1, 2024

:

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name used by Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas. She is known as Ginni, not Ginny.

How we handle corrections

July 1, 2024, 11:44 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:44 a.m. ET

Maggie Haberman

Senior political correspondent

There’s so far been no reaction on social media to the ruling from the three people in closest contention to be Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate: J.D. Vance, Marco Rubio and Doug Burgum.

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July 1, 2024, 11:44 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:44 a.m. ET

Mattathias Schwartz

Legal affairs reporter

The ruling is “absurd and dangerous,” a “monstrosity,” Eric Holder, who served as attorney general under President Barack Obama, wrote in a post on X. He argued that the Supreme Court is giving presidents free rein to commit crimes so long as they act within their “constitutional authority.”

July 1, 2024, 11:35 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:35 a.m. ET

Alan Feuer

Reporting on the Jan. 6 prosecutions

Here’s one of the sleeper holdings in the court’s ruling: The decision finds not only that a president can’t be charged for any official acts, but also that evidence involving official acts can’t be introduced to bolster accusations made about unofficial acts. If I’m reading this right, Chief Justice Roberts has reversed himself from his position during oral arguments.

OPINION OF THE COURT

The Government does not dispute that if Trump is entitled to immunity for certain official acts, he may not “be held criminally liable” based on those acts. But it nevertheless contends that a jury could “consider” evidence concerning the President’s official acts “for limited and specified purposes,” and that such evidence would “be admissible to prove, for example, [Trump’s] knowledge or notice of the falsity of his election-fraud claims.”

July 1, 2024, 11:43 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:43 a.m. ET

Alan Feuer

Reporting on the Jan. 6 prosecutions

Then, he posed a hypothetical situation about a president giving away an ambassadorship for a bribe. Roberts said that prosecutors should be allowed to introduce not only evidence about the bribe (a private act) but also the ambassadorial appointment (an official act) — otherwise, the jury would hear about only one side of the quid pro quo.

July 1, 2024, 11:34 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:34 a.m. ET

Maggie Haberman

Senior political correspondent

While the ruling cuts against what the Biden team would have wanted to see, they appear to be prepared to use the issue to highlight Trump’s conduct on and before Jan. 6, 2021, and the deluge of lies about the election he had lost.

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July 1, 2024, 11:30 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:30 a.m. ET

Alan Feuer

Reporting on the Jan. 6 prosecutions

One of the important findings by the court is this: The justices have given former presidents an expansive amount of protection against prosecution by ruling that there is presumption of immunity for acts that fall within “the outer perimeter” of a president’s official duties. That’s the same broad standard that protects presidents and former presidents against civil lawsuits. Whether the “outer perimeter” test holds up in Trump’s case remains to be seen.

July 1, 2024, 11:15 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:15 a.m. ET

Alan Feuer

Reporting on the Jan. 6 prosecutions

While Trump’s lawyers requested immunity for anything he did while in office, during oral argument they suggested they would be pleased if the court set this broad “outer perimeter” standard.

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July 1, 2024, 11:25 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:25 a.m. ET

Alan Feuer

Reporting on the Jan. 6 prosecutions

Circling back to the court’s view of the specific allegations in Jack Smith’s indictment: Chief Justice Roberts's ruling expresses skepticism that Trump could be prosecuted for the speech he gave on Jan. 6 or any of his tweets that day. Roberts notes that “most of a president’s public communications are likely to fall comfortably within the outer perimeter of his official responsibilities.” But he leaves open the possibility that Trump could face charges for his words if they were delivered as “a candidate for office.”

OPINION OF THE COURT

The President possesses “extraordinary power to speak to his fellow citizens and on their behalf.” Trump v. Hawaii, 585 U. S. 667, 701. So most of a President’s public communications are likely to fall comfortably within the outer perimeter of his official responsibilities.

There may, however, be contexts in which the President speaks in an unofficial capacity—perhaps as a candidate for office or party leader.

July 1, 2024, 11:23 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:23 a.m. ET

Linda Qiu

Reporting from inside the Supreme Court

Several of the justices’ family members also attended the last day of the court's term, including Justice Kavanaugh’s parents and Jane Roberts, the chief justice’s wife. Michael Dreeban, a lawyer who argued on behalf of the special counsel in the immunity case, was also present. He took notes as Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion but showed little emotion.

July 1, 2024, 11:22 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:22 a.m. ET

Linda Qiu

Reporting from inside the Supreme Court

Inside the courtroom, the anticipation and tension was palpable. Before Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivered the first opinion of the day — in a case about suing over regulations — she quipped, “Sorry this is not the case you’re waiting to hear so I’ll try to be concise.”

July 1, 2024, 11:17 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:17 a.m. ET

Maggie Haberman

Senior political correspondent

Trump posted a victorious message on his social media site, Truth Social: “BIG WIN FOR OUR CONSTITUTION AND DEMOCRACY. PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!"

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July 1, 2024, 11:10 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:10 a.m. ET

Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

As Justice Sotomayor's appalled dissent makes clear, this ruling is a dramatic expansion of presidential power — not just for Trump but for all presidents. She cites the notorious World War II ruling that upheld the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast.

Justice Sotomayor dissent

Looking beyond the fate of this particular prosecution, the long-term consequences of today’s decision are stark. The court effectively creates a law-free zone around the president, upsetting the status quo that has existed since the founding. This new official-acts immunity now ‘lies about like a loaded weapon’ for any president that wishes to place his own interests, his own political survival, or his own financial gain, above the interests of the nation.

July 1, 2024, 11:05 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:05 a.m. ET

Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

The Supreme Court majority ruling sets the stage for a new appeals fight if prosecutors continue to want to tell the jury about former President Trump pressuring former Vice President Pence to disrupt the counting of Biden’s Electoral College votes — a linchpin to understanding the fake electors scheme, according to the indictment.

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July 1, 2024, 11:07 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:07 a.m. ET

Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

Chief Justice Roberts says Trump’s pressuring of Pence was certainly official conduct, but leaves open the question of whether it counts as the core kind for which Trump has absolute immunity, or a lessor kind where he has only a presumption of immunity that can be overcome.

July 1, 2024, 11:04 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 11:04 a.m. ET

Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas questioned the legitimacy of the appointment of the special counsel, Jack Smith: “If this unprecedented prosecution is to proceed, it must be conducted by someone duly authorized to do so by the American people.” That is an issue that the judge in the Trump classified documents case, Aileen Cannon, just held a hearing about. Notably, none of the other eight justices joined his concurring opinion.

JUSTICE THOMAS CONCURRING

If this unprecedented prosecution is to proceed, it must be conducted by someone duly authorized to do so by the American people.

July 1, 2024, 10:57 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 10:57 a.m. ET

Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

Chief Justice Roberts’s analysis suggests that Trump talking to Pence about the Electoral College vote might not be entitled to immunity because Congress has legislated extensively to define the vice president’s role, and the president plays no direct part in that process. Chief Justice Roberts suggests that another context — a president talking to a vice president about casting a tie-breaking 51st vote in the Senate on legislation that is part of the White House’s agenda — is more likely to be immune.

July 1, 2024, 10:58 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 10:58 a.m. ET

Charlie Savage

Reporting on national security and legal policy

But despite telegraphing that likely result, the Supreme Court does not just say that. It instead sends the issue back to Judge Chutkan.

Opinion of the court

It is ultimately the government’s burden to rebut the presumption of immunity. We therefore remand to the district court to assess in the first instance, with appropriate input from the parties, whether a prosecution involving Trump’s alleged attempts to influence the vice president’s oversight of the certification proceeding in his capacity as president of the Senate would pose any dangers of intrusion on the authority and functions of the executive branch.

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July 1, 2024, 10:39 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 10:39 a.m. ET

Adam Liptak

Reporting from Washington

Presidents are partly shielded from prosecution, the Supreme Court rules.

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The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that former President Donald J. Trump is entitled to substantial immunity from prosecution on charges of trying to overturn the last election, a blockbuster decision in the heat of the 2024 campaign that vastly expanded presidential power.

The vote was 6 to 3, dividing along partisan lines. Its immediate practical effect will be to further complicate the case against Mr. Trump, with the chances that it will go before a jury ahead of the election now vanishingly remote and the charges against him, at a minimum, narrowed.

The decision amounted to a powerful statement by the court’s conservative majority that presidents should be insulated from the potential that actions they take in carrying out their official duties could later be used by political enemies to charge them with crimes.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said Mr. Trump had at least presumptive immunity for his official acts. He added that the trial judge must undertake an intensive factual review to separate official and unofficial conduct and to assess whether prosecutors can overcome the presumption protecting Mr. Trump for his official conduct.

If Mr. Trump prevails at the polls, the issue could become moot since he could order the Justice Department to drop the charges.

The liberal wing, in some of the harshest dissents ever filed by justices of the Supreme Court, said the majority had created a kind of king not answerable to the law.

Broad immunity for official conduct is needed, the chief justice wrote, to protect “an energetic, independent executive.”

“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,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “That immunity applies equally to all occupants of the Oval Office, regardless of politics, policy or party.”

The alternative, the chief justice wrote, is to invite tit-for-tat political reprisals.

“Virtually every president is criticized for insufficiently enforcing some aspect of federal law (such as drug, gun, immigration or environmental laws),” he wrote. “An enterprising prosecutor in a new administration may assert that a previous president violated that broad statute. Without immunity, such types of prosecutions of ex-presidents could quickly become routine.”

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the decision was gravely misguided. In a rare move and sign of deep disagreement, she summarized her dissent from the bench, making off-the-cuff remarks that underscored her frustration.

“Today’s decision to grant former presidents criminal immunity reshapes the institution of the presidency,” she wrote. “It makes a mockery of the principle, foundational to our Constitution and system of government, that no man is above the law.”

In her own dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote that “the court has now declared for the first time in history that the most powerful official in the United States can (under circ*mstances yet to be fully determined) become a law unto himself.”

Mr. Trump embraced the outcome on social media, celebrating the ruling. “Big win for our constitution and democracy,” he wrote in all-capital letters. “Proud to be an American!”

President Biden warned that the decision set a dangerous precedent. “The power of the office will no longer be constrained by the law, even including the Supreme Court of the United States,” he said, urging voters to prevent his Republican rival from winning a second term. “The only limits will be self-imposed by the president alone.”

The chief justice’s opinion recounted the events surrounding the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an understated, almost antiseptic summary, while the dissents called them a singular threat to democracy. And where the chief justice stressed the importance of protecting all presidents, the dissents focused on Mr. Trump.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that it was not the Supreme Court’s job to sift through the evidence and to separate protected conduct from the rest. “That analysis,” he wrote, “ultimately is best left to the lower courts to perform in the first instance.”

But he issued guideposts for Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, of the Federal District Court in Washington, who is overseeing the case.

Mr. Trump, the chief justice wrote, is “absolutely immune from prosecution for the alleged conduct involving his discussions with Justice Department officials.”

He added that Judge Chutkan should determine whether prosecutors can overcome Mr. Trump’s presumed immunity for his communications with Vice President Mike Pence.

“We therefore remand to the district court to assess in the first instance, with appropriate input from the parties, whether a prosecution involving Trump’s alleged attempts to influence the vice president’s oversight of the certification proceeding in his capacity as president of the Senate would pose any dangers of intrusion on the authority and functions of the executive branch,” he wrote.

Other parts of the indictment against Mr. Trump, the chief justice said, require “a close analysis of the indictment’s extensive and interrelated allegations.”

That includes, he wrote, Mr. Trump’s statements on Jan. 6, among them ones he made at the rally on the Ellipse.

“Whether the tweets, that speech and Trump’s other communications on Jan. 6 involve official conduct may depend on the content and context of each,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in a characteristically noncommittal passage.

He added, in a kind of refrain that ran through his opinion: “This necessarily fact-bound analysis is best performed initially by the district court.”

In all, the majority opinion was a broad defense of executive power and a detailed recipe for delay.

It was joined by the other Republican appointees: Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and, in part, Amy Coney Barrett.

In dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote that “the long-term consequences of today’s decision are stark.”

“The court effectively creates a law-free zone around the president, upsetting the status quo that has existed since the founding,” she wrote, adding: “The president of the United States is the most powerful person in the country, and possibly the world. When he uses his official powers in any way, under the majority’s reasoning, he now will be insulated from criminal prosecution.”

She gave examples: “Orders the Navy’s SEAL team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold on to power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune.”

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Chief Justice Roberts rejected the prosecutors’ arguments that evidence about official acts could be presented to the jury for context and information about Mr. Trump’s motives.

Mr. Trump contended that he was entitled to absolute immunity from the charges, relying on a broad understanding of the separation of powers and a 1982 Supreme Court precedent that recognized such immunity in civil cases for actions taken by presidents within the “outer perimeter” of their official responsibilities.

Lower courts rejected that claim.

“Whatever immunities a sitting president may enjoy,” Judge Chutkan wrote, “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.”

A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed. “For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” the panel wrote in an unsigned decision. “But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as president no longer protects him against this prosecution.”

In agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court said it would decide this question: “whether and if so to what extent does a former president enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.”

The court heard two other cases this term concerning the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

In March, the court unanimously rejected an attempt to bar Mr. Trump from the ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which makes people who engage in insurrection ineligible to hold office. The court, without discussing whether Mr. Trump was covered by the provision, ruled that states may not use it to exclude candidates for the presidency from the ballot.

On Friday, the court ruled that federal prosecutors had improperly used an obstruction law to prosecute some members of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Two of the four charges against Mr. Trump are based on that law. In a footnote on Monday, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that “if necessary, the district court should determine in the first instance” whether those charges may proceed in light of the decision last week.

The court decided the case restoring Mr. Trump to the ballot at a brisk pace, hearing arguments a month after agreeing to and issuing its decision a month after that.

The immunity case has moved at a considerably slower tempo. In December, in asking the justices to leapfrog the appeals court and hear the case immediately, Jack Smith, the special counsel overseeing the prosecution, wrote that “it is of imperative public importance that respond­ent’s claims of immunity be resolved by this court.” He added that “only this court can definitively resolve them.”

The justices denied Mr. Smith’s petition 11 days after he filed it, in a brief order without noted dissents.

After the appeals court ruled against Mr. Trump, he asked the Supreme Court to intervene. Sixteen days later, on Feb. 28, the court agreed to hear his appeal, scheduling arguments for almost two months later, on the last day of the term. Another two months have passed since then.

At the argument, several of the conservative justices did not seem inclined to examine the details of the charges against Mr. Trump. Instead, they said, the court should issue a ruling that applies to presidential power generally.

“We’re writing a rule for the ages,” Justice Gorsuch said.

The court’s announcement of that rule on Monday elicited some of the sharpest dissents ever by justices of the Supreme Court.

Justice Jackson, for instance, said the practical consequences of the majority opinion “are a five-alarm fire that threatens to consume democratic self-governance and the normal operations of our government.”

Before reading from her prepared remarks, Justice Sotomayor appeared to address the chief justice directly: “Saying it so doesn’t make it so.”

She quoted mockingly from the majority’s opinion on how criminal prosecutions would have an even more chilling effect on the ability of a president to take “bold and unhesitating action.”

“Think about that — that makes no sense,” she said.

In her written dissent, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Jackson and Elena Kagan, said: “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.”

Justice Sotomayor ended her opinion in unusual fashion. “With fear for our democracy,” she wrote, “I dissent.”

Chief Justice Roberts said the dissents were overwrought.

“They strike a tone of chilling doom that is wholly disproportionate,” he wrote, “to what the court actually does today — conclude that immunity extends to official discussions between the president and his attorney general, and then remand to the lower courts to determine ‘in the first instance’ whether and to what extent Trump’s remaining alleged conduct is entitled to immunity.”

Linda Qiu contributed reporting.

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July 1, 2024, 9:55 a.m. ET

July 1, 2024, 9:55 a.m. ET

Alan Feuer

Reporting on the Jan. 6 prosecutions

News Analysis

In taking up Trump’s immunity claim, the Supreme Court bolstered his delay strategy.

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The Supreme Court tossed former President Donald J. Trump a legal lifeline months ago by making its original choice to hear his immunity claims, a move that substantially aided Mr. Trump’s efforts to delay his federal trial on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election.

By deciding to take up Mr. Trump’s argument that presidents enjoy almost total immunity from prosecution for official actions taken while in office — a legal theory rejected by two lower courts — the justices bought the former president several months before a trial on the election interference charges can start.

There is now only a slender possibility that Mr. Trump could still face a jury in the case, in Federal District Court in Washington, before Election Day.

Given the Supreme Court’s leisurely pace in issuing its decision and the amount of legal business left to conduct in the trial court, the odds are steep that voters will not get a chance to hear the evidence that Mr. Trump sought to subvert the last election before they decide whether to back him in the current one.

If Mr. Trump is successful in delaying the trial until after Election Day and he wins, he could use the powers of his office to seek to dismiss the election interference indictment altogether. Moreover, Justice Department policy precludes prosecuting a sitting president, meaning that, once sworn in, he could most likely have any federal trial he is facing postponed until after he left office.

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