Trump v United States: What Was the Opinion of the Court?

2 Jul 2024

Trump v. United States Court Filing, retrieved on July 1, 2024, is part of HackerNoon’s Legal PDF Series. You can jump to any part in this filing here. This part is 2 of 21.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case concerns the federal indictment of a former President of the United States for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office. We consider the scope of a President’s immunity from criminal prosecution.


From January 2017 until January 2021, Donald J. Trump served as President of the United States. On August 1, 2023, a federal grand jury indicted him on four counts for conduct that occurred during his Presidency following the November 2020 election. The indictment alleged that after losing that election, Trump conspired to overturn it by spreading knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the collecting, counting, and certifying of the election results.

According to the indictment, Trump advanced his goal through five primary means. First, he and his co-conspirators “used knowingly false claims of election fraud to get state legislators and election officials to . . . change electoral votes for [Trump’s] opponent, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., to electoral votes for [Trump].” App. 185, Indictment ¶10(a).

Second, Trump and his co-conspirators “organized fraudulent slates of electors in seven targeted states” and “caused these fraudulent electors to transmit their false certificates to the Vice President and other government officials to be counted at the certification proceeding on January 6.” Id., at 186, ¶10(b).

Third, Trump and his co-conspirators attempted to use the Justice Department “to conduct sham election crime investigations and to send a letter to the targeted states that falsely claimed that the Justice Department had identified significant concerns that may have impacted the election outcome.” Id., at 186–187, ¶10(c).

Fourth, Trump and his co-conspirators attempted to persuade “the Vice President to use his ceremonial role at the January 6 certification proceeding to fraudulently alter the election results.” Id., at 187, ¶10(d). And when that failed, on the morning of January 6, they “repeated knowingly false claims of election fraud to gathered supporters, falsely told them that the Vice President had the authority to and might alter the election results, and directed them to the Capitol to obstruct the certification proceeding.” Ibid.

Fifth, when “a large and angry crowd . . . violently attacked the Capitol and halted the proceeding,” Trump and his coconspirators “exploited the disruption by redoubling efforts to levy false claims of election fraud and convince Members of Congress to further delay the certification.” Id., at 187– 188, ¶10(e).

Based on this alleged conduct, the indictment charged Trump with (1) conspiracy to defraud the United States in violation of 18 U. S. C. §371, (2) conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding in violation of §1512(k), (3) obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding in violation of §1512(c)(2), §2, and (4) conspiracy against rights in violation of §241.[1]

Trump moved to dismiss the indictment based on Presidential immunity. In his view, the conduct alleged in the indictment, properly characterized, was that while he was President he (1) “made public statements about the administration of the federal election”; (2) communicated with senior Justice Department officials “about investigating election fraud and about choosing the leadership” of the Department; (3) “communicated with state officials about the administration of the federal election and their exercise of official duties with respect to it”; (4) “communicated with the Vice President” and with “Members of Congress about the exercise of their official duties regarding the election certification”; and (5) “authorized or directed others to organize contingent slates of electors in furtherance of his attempts to convince the Vice President to exercise his official authority in a manner advocated for by President Trump.”

Motion To Dismiss Indictment Based on Presidential Immunity in No. 1:23–cr–00257 (DC), ECF Doc. 74, p. 9. Trump argued that all of the indictment’s allegations fell within the core of his official duties. Id., at 27. And he contended that a President has absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions performed within the outer perimeter of his official responsibilities, to ensure that he can undertake the especially sensitive duties of his office with bold and unhesitating action. Id., at 14, 24.

The District Court denied the motion to dismiss, holding that “former Presidents do not possess absolute federal criminal immunity for any acts committed while in office.” 2023 WL 8359833, *15 (DC, Dec. 1, 2023). The District Court recognized that the President is immune from damages liability in civil cases, to protect against the chilling effect such exposure might have on the carrying out of his responsibilities. See Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U. S. 731, 749–756 (1982).

But it reasoned that “the possibility of vexatious post-Presidency litigation is much reduced in the criminal context” in light of “[t]he robust procedural safeguards attendant to federal criminal prosecutions.” 2023 WL 8359833, *9–*10. The District Court declined to decide whether the indicted conduct involved official acts. See id., at *15.

The D. C. Circuit affirmed. 91 F. 4th 1173 (2024) (per curiam). Citing Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803), the court distinguished between two kinds of official acts: discretionary and ministerial. 91 F. 4th, at 1189–1190. It observed that “although discretionary acts are ‘only politically examinable,’ the judiciary has the power to hear cases” involving ministerial acts that an officer is directed to perform by the legislature. Ibid. (quoting Marbury, 1 Cranch, at 166).

From this distinction, the D. C. Circuit concluded that the “separation of powers doctrine, as expounded in Marbury and its progeny, necessarily permits the Judiciary to oversee the federal criminal prosecution of a former President for his official acts because the fact of the prosecution means that the former President has allegedly acted in defiance of the Congress’s laws.” 91 F. 4th, at 1191.

In the court’s view, the fact that Trump’s actions “allegedly violated generally applicable criminal laws” meant that those actions “were not properly within the scope of his lawful discretion.” Id., at 1192. The D. C. Circuit thus concluded that Trump had “no structural immunity from the charges in the Indictment.” Ibid. Like the District Court, the D. C. Circuit declined to analyze the actions described in the indictment to determine whether they involved official acts. See id., at 1205, n. 14.

We granted certiorari to consider the following question:

“Whether and if so to what extent does a former President enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.” 601 U. S. ___ (2024).

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[1] Trump contends that the indictment stretches Section 1512(c)(2) “far beyond its natural meaning.” Brief for Petitioner 39, n. 4. As we explained in Fischer v. United States, Section 1512(c)(2) covers acts that impair “the availability or integrity for use in an official proceeding of records, documents, objects, or . . . other things used in the proceeding.” 603 U. S. ___, ___ (2024) (slip op., at 16). If necessary, the District Court should determine in the first instance whether the Section 1512(c)(2) charges may proceed in light of our decision in Fischer.