Supreme Court justices say Trump immunity decision will have ‘huge implications’ for America’s future: Live

Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in the case that will determine if a president has immunity from criminal prosecution, brought by Donald Trump in an attempt to dismiss his federal election interference case.

Arguments, which lasted roughly three and a half hours, began heated with the majority of the conservative arm of the court toying with the idea of awarding presidents some form of immunity from criminal charges. Some expressed concern that presidents could face politically motivated prosecution, others worried it would impede a president’s ability to do their job.

Most of the court, notably the liberal justices and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, appeared skeptical of awarding presidents, and Mr Trump, broad absolute immunity.

Should the court rule narrowly on immunity, it could send Mr Trump’s appeal back to a lower court for further litigation – potentially delaying the federal election interference trial.

Thursday’s arguments stem from the indictment brought against Mr Trump by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith regarding his attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Mr Trump did not attend arguments as he is required to be in New York for the latest installment of his hush money trial.

Key Points

  • Justices appear inclined to offer presidents some immunity

  • What to know about Donald Trump’s ‘presidential immunity' battle

  • Why the ghosts of the Nixon administration will hover over Trump’s hearing

  • When will the Supreme Court decide rule? Legal experts say it may take some time

Supreme Court justices appear poised to offer Trump some immunity

18:54 , Ariana Baio

A majority of the Supreme Court justices expressed interest in offering Donald Trump and future presidents some form of immunity from criminal prosecution based on actions they took while in office – while rejecting broad absolute immunity.

During oral arguments on Thursday, the conservative male majority of the court toyed with the idea of awarding some protections to the former president in his case arguing he has presidential immunity from charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith regarding election interference.

Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas raised concerns that without protections, presidents could face politically motivated prosecution for actions they took while in office.

“This case has huge implications for the presidency, for the future of the presidency, for the future of the country,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh said while weighing arguments.

Ariana Baio reports:

Supreme Court justices appear poised to offer Trump some immunity

Arguments are over

17:49 , Ariana Baio

At the conclusion of Mr Dreeben’s questioning, Justice Roberts asked Mr Sauer if he would like to rebuttal which he declined.

The case is now submitted to the court and will be considered.

It is unclear when the court will issue a decision – typically they make final rulings in mid-late June.

Justice Jackson suggests court should not rule narrowly

17:40 , Ariana Baio

Justice Jackson suggested that the Supreme Court should not rule extremely narrowly in the case and only decide if presidents have absolute immunity or not.

Throughout arguments, justices have suggested that they would offer some criminal prosecution immunity to presidents whether that be immunity from prosecution regarding “core” duties awarded specifically to the presidency or “official acts”.

“Is this the right vehicle to hammer out that test?” Justice Jackson asked Mr Dreeben, saying that the actions alleged indictment had “no plausible argument” that they fall under that “core”.

“We don’t think there are any core act alleged indictment,” Mr Dreeben said, agreeing that this was not the right case to rule narrowly.

Barrett asks how to proceed if the court find electoral scheme was ‘private'

17:30 , Ariana Baio

Justice Barrett asked Mr Dreeben how they Justice Department would go forward if the court found that much of the alleged actions in the indictment were considered private action.

Mr Dreeben said that the Special Counsel would still “like to present [the private action] as an integrated picture to the jury” – hinting that it would not stop them from going forward with an indictment.

“We still think we could introduce the actions with the Justice Department for their evidentiary value,” Mr Dreeben said.

Dreeben argues Trump was acting as a candidate – not as president

17:09 , Ariana Baio

The second half of today’s arguments has been a bit of a struggle for Mr Dreeben, who is being grilled and, often, interrupted by conservative justices.

In the moments Mr Dreeben has had uninterrupted time to speak, he says Mr Trump’s actions as laid out in the indictment were conducted as a presidential candidate, not the president – meaning they are not protected as “official” acts.

Alito and Sotomayor offer arguments on two sides of the same coin

16:55 , Ariana Baio

Justice Alito, one of the most conservative on the court, and Justice Sotomayor, one of the most liberal, both argue how protections from criminal prosecution incentivize a president’s approach their job.

Justice Alito suggests that without protections, presidents cannot fulfill their duties without worrying about politically motivated criminal prosecutions.

Justice Sotomayor says that, “a stable democratic society needs the good faith of its public officials and that good faith assumes that they will follow the law.”

Alito makes an argument for presidential protection

16:39 , Ariana Baio

Justice Alito, and other justices, have raised concerns about political opponents going after presidents without criminal protections.

“Presidents have to make a lot of tough decisions about enforcing the law.... Did I understand you say... if he makes a mistake he’s subject to the criminal laws?”

Who are the Supreme Court Justices?

16:30 , Ariana Baio

The Supreme Court is made up of nine justices, eight Associate Justices and one Chief Justice.

John Roberts, 69, is currently the Chief Justice, he was appointed by George W Bush in 2005.

Clarence Thomas, 75, was appointed by George H W Bush in 1991.

Samuel Alito, 73, was appointed by George W Bush in 2006.

Sonia Sotomayor, 69, was appointed by Barack Obama in 2009.

Elena Kagen, 63, was Barack Obama in 2010.

Neil Gorsuch, 56, was appointed by Donald Trump in 2017.

Brett Kavanaugh, 59, was appointed by Donald Trump in 2018.

Amy Coney Barrett, 52, was appointed by Donald Trump in 2020.

Kentaji Brown Jackson, 53 was appointed by Joe Biden in 2022.

Justices of the US Supreme Court pose for their official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on October 7, 2022. (Seated from left) Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Samuel Alito and Associate Justice Elena Kagan, (Standing behind from left) Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson (AFP via Getty Images)

Gorsuch weighs in on the crime at the center of another case

16:25 , Ariana Baio

Mr Gorsuch offered somewhat of a hypothetical to Mr Dreeben when asking what actions are protected from immunity, what if a president is charged with corruptly impeding an official proceeding after staging a protest in front of Congress due to a piece of legislation that delays proceedings in Congress.

The court is looking into that issue in Fischer v United States the statute is central to criminal indictments against more than 300 rioters who attacked the Capitol on January 6

Justices appear inclined to offer presidents some immunity

16:20 , Ariana Baio

In questioning Mr Dreeben, justices have heavily indicated they believe presidents deserve some immunity from criminal prosecution – but now, they need to determine what is protected.

Mr Roberts joined Mr Gorsuch and Mr Kavanaugh in saying the lower courts should determine which of the alleged acts laid out on the indictment are “official” versus private.

“The court of appeals did not get into a focused consideration of what facts we’re talking about or what documents we’re talking about... they did not look at what courts usually look at when... taking away immunity,” Mr Roberts said.

Justice Clarence Thomas asks why former presidents have not been prosecued

16:06 , Ariana Baio

Justice Clarence Thomas asked Mr Dreeben why former presidents, who have engaged in operations (he mentions Operation Mongoose authorized by John F Kennedy) and coups, have not been prosecuted.

Mr Dreeben says simply: there were no crimes. He cites the public authority defense which states the defendant knowingly committed a criminal act but did so in reasonable reliance upon a grant of authority from a government official to engage in illegal activity.

Next up: Michael Dreeben for the special counsel

16:01 , Ariana Baio

Mr Sauer has wrapped up his opening arguments and answered the justices’ questions. Now Michael Dreeben, counselor to the special counsel for the Justice Department will give his arguments and answer questions.

The Nixon case Mr Trump’s lawyers are relying on: Nixon v Fitzgerald

16:00 , Ariana Baio

Mr Trump’s team heavily relies on Nixon v Fitzgerald (1982) in which the Supreme Court ruled that presidents cannot be sued for actions they conducted while in office.

The case began in 1978 when Arthur Fitzgerald – a former contractor for the US Air Force – sued Nixon and other White House aides for damages after he lost his job after giving testimony to Congress.

Nixon appealed to a lower federal court, claiming he had immunity from civil liability. When the judges in the lower court disagreed, the former president took the case to an appeals court. That court also ruled against him. Nixon appealed to the Supreme Court

Though the case was decided after Nixon left office, the court ruled in his favour, deciding that “the President’s absolute immunity extends to all acts within the ‘outer perimeter’ of his duties of office”.

In his brief to the Supreme Court, Mr Trump’s attorneys argue he was acting within his official “outer perimeter” when he made false allegations of election fraud and asked then-vice president Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

“All five classes of conduct charged in the indictment fall within that broad scope,” his lawyers argued.

As well as presidents being entitled to “absolute immunity” from civil lawsuits for actions conducted while in office, his legal team is arguing that this protection should also extend to criminal actions, in order to protect future presidents from “de facto blackmail and extortion while in office… at the hands of political opponents”.

Justice Jackson raises concerns for future presidents

15:59 , Ariana Baio

Justice Jackson grills Mr Sauer about issuing criminal immunity to presidents, raising concerns about how it could “embolden” a person to take advantage of committing crimes while in office.

“The most powerful person in the world with the greatest amount of authority could go into office knowing there would be no potential penalty for committing crimes.”

Gorsuch and Kavanaugh hint at further proceedings

15:55 , Ariana Baio

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have both indicated they may need to hold more proceedings to determine where the line is between official and private acts – an idea that Mr Sauer agreed with.

Sending proceedings back down to a lower court would ultimately delay Mr Smith’s federal election interference trial against Mr Trump.

Justice Neil Gorsuch asks can the president pardon himself?

15:47 , Ariana Baio

Perhaps the question of the century comes from Justice Neil Gorsuch: can the president pardon himself?

Mr Sauer deflects an answer, bringing his point back to one Mr Trump has made many times, presidents need criminal protection so they don’t have to worry about a political opponent coming after them.

Trump’s lawyer falls back on impeachment and conviction theory

15:45 , Ariana Baio

In filings and briefs, Mr Trump’s lawyers have argued he cannot be criminally prosecuted unless they were impeached by the House and then convicted by the Senate first.

Mr Sauer brought up that argument once again this morning.

Lower courts have disputed this.

Momentary crickets from Sauer

15:41 , Ariana Baio

A noticeable moment in the first half of this morning’s arguments occurred between an exchange between Justice Elena Kagan and Mr Sauer.

Ms Kagan asks if a president ordering the military to stage a coup is considered an official act. Though it is only hypothetical, Ms Kagan’s example seems to pull some inspiration from the allegations in Jack Smith’s indictment: Mr Trump called on his supporters to go to the Capitol on January 6 while Congress was trying to certify election results.

Mr Sauer remained silent for a few seconds before responding, “Depends on the circumstances.”

Amy Coney Barrett questions if acts alleged in the indictment were private

15:35 , Ariana Baio

Both the government and Mr Trump’s lawyers agree that private acts are not protected from presidential immunity.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett asks Mr Sauer if several of the alleged actions laid on the indictment are considered private – specifically related to installing the fake elector’s scheme.

Those include meeting with private actors and lawyers to discuss false claims of election fraud.

Those acts, like consulting a lawyer and private actors to participate in the elector’s plot were private and therefore not subject to immunity.

Mr Sauer agrees.

Justices ask if motive matters

15:24 , Ariana Baio

Several Justices, including Samuel Alito, ask Mr Sauer if they need to consider motive in order to determine when a president has committed a crime when using their official powers.

“A former president cannot be prosecuted for official acts unless no plausible justification could be imagined for what the president did, taking into account history, legal precedent, information the president had when taking the action,” Mr Alito said.

Justice Kentaji Brown Jackson hones in on the issue

15:18 , Ariana Baio

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson says she’s “having a hard time” believing that a charge at the center of the federal election interference case is protected: creating a false document.

She tells Mr Sauer that the court needs to figure out what an “official act” is and if that is part of when the president uses the “trappings of his office to achieve a personal gain”.

Court immediately asks: what is an ‘official act’?

15:14 , Ariana Baio

Right off the bat, Chief Justice John Roberts is asking Mr Trump’s lawyer, John Sauer, what is an “official act”?

Mr Roberts asks if a president accepted a bribe in return for appointing an ambassador would be considered protected from criminal prosecution.

Mr Sauer responds that it would not be considered an official act.

Oral arguments begin in Trump v United States

15:03 , Ariana Baio

Oral arguments have officially begun in Trump v United States.

John D Sauer, the former solicitor general of Missouri, is arguing on behalf of former president Donald Trump.

When will the Supreme Court decide rule? Legal experts say it may take some time

15:00 , Ariana Baio

One of the most pressing questions in the immunity case at the Supreme Court is when the justices decide to issue a ruling.

Ideally, justices will return a decision quickly given the timely nature of the federal election interference ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Special counsel Jack Smith has asked the court to decide swiftly because he wants to begin the trial before the election.

Mr Trump’s legal team has used motions to dismiss indictments and delay trials to push the trial start dates as far back as possible.

Though the Supreme Court has historically been able to issue rulings quickly – like in United States v Nixon which took 16 days and Bush v Gore which took 24 hours, already justices have signaled they will take their time.

Despite agreeing to hear Mr Trump’s immunity argument in February, the court scheduled arguments for the last day of arguments schedule.

“History has shown that the Supreme Court, on several occasions, has been willing and able to move quickly when dealing with questions of historical significance,” Olivia Troye a former special advisor to ex-vice president Mike Pence said.

“This is one of those critical questions… I really implore the court to move with urgency. Donald Trump is known for delay tactics, and I hope that the Supreme Court will not be used as one of his pawns... Given what is at stake here in terms of our democracy, I hope that this will not be delayed any longer.”

The scene outside of the Supreme Court

14:14 , Ariana Baio

We’re about an hour away from the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in Donald Trump’s immunity case, here’s what the scene looks like outside of the court.

Activist Stephen Parlato of Boulder, Colo., right, joins other protesters outside the Supreme Court as the justices prepare to hear arguments over whether Donald Trump is immune from prosecution in a case charging him with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 25, 2024 (AP)

What time are oral arguments?

13:52 , Ariana Baio

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live blog coverage of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments of Trump v United States, the case brought by the former president in which he argues he has absolute immunity from criminal prosecution.

Oral arguments will start at 10am.

Watch: Trump pushes for presidential immunity in six-minute video rant

13:00 , Joe Sommerlad

Why does Donald Trump think he deserves immunity from prosecution, a protection not required by any of his 44 predecessors in the Oval Office?

Here are some of the former president’s central arguments.

How The Independent has covered the Trump immunity saga: Part 2

11:00 , Joe Sommerlad

Next up, here’s Alex Woodward’s report from 9 January when a three-justice DC federal appeals court prepared to hear legal arguments from Trump’s lawyers on the immunity question.

They went on to uphold Judge Tanya Chutkan’s original decision rejecting the defence, which led Trump to elevate his appeal, again, to the Supreme Court, bringing us to today’s hearing.

Trump’s ‘immunity’ defence takes centre stage in election conspiracy case

How The Independent has covered the Trump immunity saga: Part 1

10:00 , Joe Sommerlad

It’s been a long road on the way to the upcoming Supreme Court arguments over the scope of Donald Trump’s presidential immunity.

Here are some of the key developments, as reported by The Independent.

First up, here’s the moment Jack Smith announced his indictment on 1 August last year, the third of four criminal cases brought against Trump.

Watch moment Trump indictment announced by Special Counsel Jack Smith

How Supreme Court delays gave Trump what he wants before 2024 elections

05:53 , Josh Marcus

On 1 August, 2023, Donald Trump was federally indicted for his failed efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Two months later, his attorneys argued that the charges should be tossed out, citing his presidential “immunity” from prosecution for crimes allegedly committed while he was in office.

A growing body of legal experts and constitutional scholars have repeatedly warned that the defence is absurd, far-reaching, and dangerous to democracy.

By December, federal prosecutors were asking the US Supreme Court to step in and settle the question once and for all, hoping to keep the case moving swiftly to prevent the possibility of a criminal trial against president-elect Trump – or the potential for a President Trump to find a way to throw out the case altogether if he is sworn back into office in 2025.

Alex Woodward reports.

How Supreme Court delays gave Trump what he wants before 2024 elections

Supreme Court weighs Trump’s ‘presidential immunity’ claim. Here’s what that means

01:53 , Josh Marcus

Whether or not Donald Trump, and future presidents, are immune from criminal prosecution for actions conducted while in the White House will soon be decided by the Supreme Court.

In what is setting up to be a landmark ruling from the nation’s highest court, the nine justices will determine if Mr Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results by making false claims of election fraud, allegedly trying to install fake electors and pressuring former vice president Mike Pence to decertify election results were part of his “official acts” as president, and if those are protected from criminal prosecution.

Mr Trump claims he should enjoy absolute immunity, citing previous court cases that have determined presidents have immunity from civil lawsuits brought against them for conduct that occurred while in office.

But special counsel Jack Smith, who brought the four-count federal indictment against Mr Trump, says differently, citing precedent that has determined presidents do not have immunity from criminal judicial proceedings.

Ariana Baio reports.

Supreme Court weighs Trump’s ‘presidential immunity’ claim. Here’s what that means

The Trump prosecution at the heart of Thursday’s Supreme Court hearing

Thursday 25 April 2024 00:27 , Josh Marcus

Thursday’s Supreme Court arguments were spurred on by a case filed last year against Donald Trump by federal officials, accusing him of trying to overturn the 2020 election.

At the time, Alex Woodward had this analysis on what the charges mean.

Eight key revelations from Trump’s January 6 indictment

What to know about Donald Trump’s immunity battle

Wednesday 24 April 2024 23:27 , Josh Marcus

The Supreme Court on Thursday will hear arguments about whether presidential immunity privileges protect Donald Trump from the special counsel case against him for trying to overturn the 2020 election result.

Here’s what you need to know:

Why does this case matter?

Thursday’s arguments deal with a highly complicated area of the law: how much a president is protected from prosecution based on things they did in office.

It’s a complicated balance the Supreme Court has wrestled with for years, particularly when it comes to scandal-plagued presidents.

The high court has recognised both that the commander-in-chief can’t be sued for every single thing that happens when they’re in the White House, but the panel has also found that presidents can’t avoid the judicial process entirely just because of their position.

As a result of this history, both sides in Thursday’s arguments are actually reaching back to precedent from the Nixon era to make their opposing points about the scope of presidential immunity.

More than just an important legal question, the position the justices take will impact whether Donald Trump faces criminal charges for his conduct during the final, chaotic moments of the 2020 election.

What’s the underlying prosecution that inspired this case?

In August of last year, special counsel Jack Smith charged Donald Trump with four federal criminal counts in Washington, DC, related to the former president’s alleged scheme to overthrow the 2020 election.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has sought to throw out the case, arguing that his conduct during the 2020 election is immune to prosecution because of its connection to his duties as president.

In February, the US Supreme Court agreed to take up the immunity question, after a series of lower appeals courts rejected the former president’s arguments.

What comes next?

That’s anyone’s guess, but the high court’s decision could drastically impact the special counsel case.

Even if Mr Trump is not able to dismiss the federal case altogether, the Supreme Court’s decision could result in further rounds of argument and hearings in other courts, postponing a potential high-profile trial until after the upcoming presidential election in November.

Donald Trump’s ‘presidential immunity’ argument finally reaches Supreme Court

Wednesday 24 April 2024 22:44 , Josh Marcus

Hello and welcome to our live coverage of Donald Trump’s upcoming Supreme Court hearing regarding the scope of his immunity from prosecution.

The arguments could determine the future of special counsel Jack Smith’s case against the former president — and maybe the fate of the 2024 election itself.