Democrats rage at Supreme Court for Trump immunity ruling: ‘a travesty’

Capitol Hill Democrats are hammering the Supreme Court on Monday over its decision to grant immunity to presidents for “official” acts, saying it will empower future commanders in chief to break the law with impunity.

The Democrats have long argued that, under the Constitution, no one — not even the president — is above the law. By ruling that former President Trump is exempt from prosecution for certain actions — possibly to include those related to his effort to overturn his 2020 election defeat — the Supreme Court has not only defied the intentions of the nation’s founders, the critics say, but also tacitly sanctioned the same dictatorial powers they had revolted against.

“This decision by the Supreme Court today is a travesty and perhaps the most dangerous judicial opinion from our Supreme Court in generations,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said. “By smooth and naive legalese, these partisan justices have created a framework for a President to commit any acts he or she chooses … This opinion is nothing less than a blueprint for a lawless dictator to take root in the Oval Office of the White House.”

Other Democrats issued similarly stark warnings.

“Today is a dark day for American Democracy,” said Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), a former federal prosecutor. “The Supreme Court’s ruling gives expansive immunity to a corrupt president who purports to use acts within his official authority to conspire to overturn a lawful election.”

Goldman characterized the ruling as highly partisan, accusing two of the conservative justices — Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — of defying their legal obligations to recuse themselves from the immunity case because of their connections to Trump and his bid to remain in power after his 2020 defeat. Thomas’s wife was a leading figure in the “Stop the Steal” movement, while Alito said his wife was responsible for flying flags related to that campaign outside two of their homes.

“This ruling is perhaps the final nail in the coffin of this rogue Supreme Court’s claim to institutional legitimacy,” Goldman said.

Former Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used similar language in questioning the court’s impartiality.

“The Supreme Court placed itself on trial with this decision — and its credibility has been further diminished in the eyes of all those who believe in the rule of law,” she said.

The outrage came after the Supreme Court — in its final opinion of the current term — ruled on Monday that former presidents enjoy a presumption of criminal immunity for official acts while in the White House. The decision marked a huge victory for Trump, who has requested total immunity in the federal case charging him with four separate felonies related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and his role in the violent rampage at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which was carried out by a mob of his supporters.

Trump and his GOP allies say Trump is merely a victim of a “weaponized” Department of Justice (DOJ) under President Biden as the two vie for the White House in a rematch of their 2020 contest.

“Hyper-partisan prosecutors like Jack Smith cannot weaponize the rule of law to go after the Administration’s chief political rival, and we hope the Left will stop its attacks on President Trump and uphold democratic norms,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote on the social platform X.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) delivered a similar message, saying the ruling is a “defeat” for Biden’s “weaponized” DOJ.

“This decision is based on the obviously unique power and position of the presidency, and comports with the Constitution and common sense,” said Johnson, a former constitutional attorney who had come up with the legal framework for challenging the 2020 election results. “As President Trump has repeatedly said, the American people, not President Biden’s bureaucrats, will decide the November 5th election.”

The justices, however, stopped short of specifying whether Trump’s efforts in relation to the Jan. 6 riot constitute official or unofficial acts — the majority just said his “core constitutional powers” are protected — sending that question back to a lower court in a move that will likely delay the former president’s trial beyond the November election.

With that in mind, some Democrats said the outrage over Monday’s decision is premature.

“Don’t panic on Trump immunity case,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who served as an impeachment manager for Trump’s impeachment following the Jan. 6 riot, wrote on X. “Jack Smith will argue Trump’s actions were not ‘official acts.’ There’s precedent on this from a J6 civil case *that I know a thing or two about* that was unanimously upheld by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This is not a Trump victory.”

Yet, Swalwell’s message was a lonely one on Monday, as most Democrats warned that, by not defining what an official act is, the Supreme Court has raised more questions than it answered.

“A core part of the presidential powers is that there is immunity for official acts, but the vagueness of the standard for immunity set in the ruling is deeply concerning,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said in a statement. “It would be hard to argue that dispensing a mob to overturn the election is part of the president’s ‘official duties.’”

The Democratic criticisms echoed those from the three liberal justices who dissented Monday’s decision. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote the dissent that the two other liberal justices joined, said, “In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.”

House Democrats quickly moved to turn their anger into action, previewing vague — and some ambitious — efforts to rein in what they see as an overstep by the Supreme Court. The message is similar to their reaction after the Supreme Court, in another landmark decision, struck down Roe v. Wade, ending the nearly 50-year-old constitutional right to an abortion.

“No one, including the twice-impeached former President, should be above the law,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “House Democrats will engage in aggressive oversight and legislative activity with respect to the Supreme Court to ensure that the extreme, far-right justices in the majority are brought into compliance with the Constitution.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote on X that she would file articles of impeachment when lawmakers returned to Washington.

“The Supreme Court has become consumed by a corruption crisis beyond its control. Today’s ruling represents an assault on American democracy. It is up to Congress to defend our nation from this authoritarian capture,” she said.

Pascrell, meanwhile, reiterated the long-simmering push to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court, writing, “I support expanding the republican supreme court because it is the surest way to finally balance this corrupt rightwing body.”

“I urge my colleagues to support expansion,” he added.

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