The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has ruled that Donald Trump does not have immunity from federal prosecution in the federal election interference case. The three-judge panel’s unanimous decision means that the criminal case against Trump accusing him of seeking to overturn the 2020 election is now one step closer to proceeding to trial.
The ruling comes a month after Trump's lawyers argued that Trump had immunity from federal prosecution because the actions alleged in that case were official acts that he took as President. Federal lawyers counter-argued that granting such immunity would set a dangerous precedent, giving presidents license to commit crimes while in the White House. A district court judge and the appellate court ultimately agreed with the prosecution’s interpretation of the law.
The D.C. Circuit Court stated, "[i]t would be a striking paradox if the President, who alone is vested with the constitutional duty to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,' were the sole officer capable of defying those laws with impunity.”
The Court continued, “[w]e cannot accept former President Trump’s claim that a President has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power — the recognition and implementation of election results. Nor can we sanction his apparent contention that the Executive has carte blanche to violate the rights of individual citizens to vote and to have their votes count."
The judges stated that for the purposes of the federal investigation into election interference, "former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant."
Judge Karen Henderson, a Republican-appointed judge on the panel, noted during oral argument in early January that she thought it was “paradoxical to say that [Trump’s] constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed allows him to violate criminal laws.”
This ruling was issued in the D.C. Circuit and is not directly binding on other criminal indictments against the former president, including in the Fulton County, GA case. Trump has also argued “presidential immunity” in the Fulton County case, where the matter is yet to be resolved.
If Trump appeals this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, that court will have to decide whether to consider and issue its own opinion on the immunity question.