Federal Appeals Court Rules Trump Lacks Presidential Immunity in January 6 Case

Credits: Axios

In a significant development, a federal appeals court delivered a blow to Donald Trump’s central defense in the federal election subversion case, stating that he is not immune from prosecution for alleged crimes committed during his presidency to overturn the 2020 election results.

This ruling challenges Trump’s argument that the actions brought against him by special counsel Jack Smith were part of his official duties as president, affording him protection from criminal liability.

The unanimous decision from the three-judge panel emphasizes that, in this criminal case, Donald Trump has transitioned from being the former President to a private citizen, with all the legal defenses available to any criminal defendant.

Trump (Credits: The Washington Post)

The court clarifies that any executive immunity that may have shielded Trump while serving as President no longer applies to the current prosecution.

The panel, consisting of Judges J. Michelle Childs and Florence Pan (appointed by Joe Biden) and Karen LeCraft Henderson (appointed by George H.W. Bush), made it clear that Trump’s legal team has the option to appeal directly to the Supreme Court or seek an en banc review at the appeals court, involving a reconsideration of the case by the full DC Circuit.

The court’s opinion underscores the gravity of the alleged actions, stating that if proven, Trump’s attempts to undermine the 2020 presidential election would be an “unprecedented assault on the structure of our government.”

It highlights the potential paradox if the President, entrusted with the constitutional duty to ensure the faithful execution of laws, was the only official capable of defying those laws without consequence.

Rejecting Trump’s claim that his criminal indictment could have a chilling effect on future presidents, the judges argue that past Presidents have understood themselves to be subject to impeachment and criminal liability under certain circumstances.

They contend that the possibility of chilling executive action is already a reality and accountability for “official acts” is inherent in the presidential role. Trump’s legal team had posited that the fear of potential indictment for “official acts” could inhibit future executives in exercising their duties.

However, the court firmly dismisses this argument, emphasizing the existing understanding that Presidents are subject to legal consequences, including criminal liability, based on the circumstances surrounding their actions.

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