Mostly Immune

The Supreme Court, last Monday, issued its ruling on former President Donald Trump’s (R) Presidential immunity case. In a 6-3 ruling, the Court held that he has that for official acts committed while in office. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the Court, in part:

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.

The necessity of a strong measure of (criminal prosecution) immunity is absolutely essential. Roberts made this point early on [citations omitted]:

The President “occupies a unique position in the constitutional scheme,” … as “the only person who alone composes a branch of government,”[.] The Framers “sought to encourage energetic, vigorous, decisive, and speedy execution of the laws by placing in the hands of a single, constitutionally indispensable, individual the ultimate authority that, in respect to the other branches, the Constitution divides among many.”  They “deemed an energetic executive essential to ‘the protection of the community against foreign attacks,’ ‘the steady administration of the laws,’ ‘the protection of property,’ and ‘the security of liberty.'” The purpose of a “vigorous” and “energetic” Executive, they thought, was to ensure “good government,” for a “feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government.”

Appreciating the “unique risks to the effective functioning of government” that arise when the President’s energies are diverted by proceedings that might render him “unduly cautious in the discharge of his official duties,” we have recognized Presidential immunities and privileges “rooted in the constitutional tradition of the separation of powers and supported by our history.”

It’s necessary to keep in mind, too, that the Framers wrote President as an energetic, vigorous, decisive, and speedy executer of the laws and as one whose ability to act decisively and speedily is necessary to the protection of the community against foreign attacks in an environment of a failing Articles of Confederation. That treaty didn’t even have a feeble executive, rather it was devoid of any sort of Executive or executive power altogether. The treaty itself was so feeble that it was powerless to fund itself; and it was (soon to be) fatally unable to act against the steady drumbeat of British violations of the Treaty of Paris that codified our independence and against British incursions into our nascent nation’s western territories.

I have a problem, though, with absolute immunity for anyone for criminal acts, whenever they may have been conducted. A line does need to be drawn—and I don’t have any ideas on where, yet—between prosecuting a President for his criminal acts and making up crimes, à la Jack Smith, in order to prosecute a President that some don’t like.

Maybe a line drawn on consequences: the prosecutor and “senior” members of his team who go after a President or former President on some alleged criminality, on that President’s/former President’s acquittal, go straight to jail to serve, without parole, the mid-range sentence that the alleged crime calls for. Consecutively, if multiple crimes are charged and acquitted.

One of the questions that follow this ruling will hinge on the circle: is a criminal act an official act? Can it be? There is some case law that bars things done “under color of law;” that principle would seem to apply to “under cover of official act.”

It’s not going to be an easy question to resolve.

The Court’s ruling can be read here.

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