Federal Appeals Court Rules Former President Donald Trump Does Not Have Immunity in DC Election Case

A federal appeals court rejected former President Donald Trump’s argument that he has broad presidential immunity from charges that he tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election.


A federal appeals court rejected former President Donald Trump’s argument that he has broad presidential immunity from charges that he tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump’s legal team has promised to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

  • The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel means Trump can face trial on federal charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith. Additional appeals from Trump’s legal team could affect the timing of the trial, which was initially set to begin on March 4.
  • “For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” wrote the panel in their 57-page ruling.
  • The panel consisted of two judges appointed by Democratic presidents and one appointed by a Republican president.
  • Trump could ask for the case to be re-heard by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but the panel imposed a rule that would allow the DC election trial to proceed while the full court heard the case.
  • The case likely would remain frozen should the Supreme Court take up an appeal from Trump’s team.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times observed, “During the arguments last month, the judges signaled particular concern after Mr. Trump’s lawyer argued that a former president could avoid criminal prosecution even for ordering SEAL Team 6, an elite group of Navy commandos, to assassinate one of his political rivals unless the Senate had first convicted him at an impeachment trial.”
  • As the Washington Post put it, “The ruling is one of several expected this spring that could determine whether Trump will campaign for president this fall from behind bars — and whether he is able to compete for reelection at all. It comes days before the Supreme Court considers another untested question raised by Trump’s candidacy: whether the former president is an insurrectionist prohibited by the Constitution from returning to the White House because of his actions around Jan. 6.”
  • “Throughout their opinion, Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson, Florence Pan and J. Michelle Childs rejected all of Trump’s arguments of sweeping protections around the presidency,” CNN noted. “The judges were clear that the charges against Trump are serious and left no question they believe they can be prosecuted.”



  • “The unanimous ruling is a major setback for Trump in the case after special counsel Jack Smith charged the former president over his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, which led to the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021,” National Review observed. “Trump previously argued he has presidential immunity because the crimes that he’s accused of took place before he left the White House.”
  • “The trial date carries enormous political ramifications and Trump hopes an eventual decision will be delayed until after the November election,” Fox News explained. “Should that happen and if Trump defeats President Biden, he could presumably try to use his position as head of the executive branch to dismiss the case. He could also potentially seek a pardon for himself, although such a situation has no precedent.”
  • “If Trump appeals the ruling to the Supreme Court, it would bring to three the number of cases tied directly to Trump the justices would rule on before July,” the Wall Street Journal noted. “The high court is considering the former president’s appeal of Colorado’s landmark ruling that he is an insurrectionist and unfit for public office. And in December the justices said they would consider whether prosecutors exceeded the scope of federal obstruction laws in hundreds of criminal cases relating to the Capitol attack, and in Smith’s case against Trump.”

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© Dominic Moore, 2023