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‘Prescription for autocracy’: Legal scholars fret about Trump immunity ruling

One law professor says presidents can now have political opponents assassinated

The recent Supreme Court ruling that presidents enjoy “absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority,” is a “prescription for autocracy,” according to a Harvard University law professor.

President Donald Trump argued he was immune from prosecution for his attempts in 2021 to prevent certification of the Electoral College votes. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said presidents do have immunity for presidential acts.

“The President enjoys no immunity for his unofficial acts, and not everything the President does is official,” the majority opinion stated. “The President is not above the law. But under our system of separated powers, the President may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers, and he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for his official acts.”

Professor Laurence Tribe criticized the Supreme Court’s “incoherent” ruling.

“What makes it really dangerous is that even if we eventually get over Trumpism and the MAGA movement, we will have to rely on the good character of future presidents, because the law will no longer serve as a source of inhibition,” Professor Tribe said Monday.

“That’s dangerous, that’s a prescription for autocracy, and eventually for authoritarianism and dictatorship,” Tribe said on MSNBC.

Michael Waldman, president of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, expressed similar concern. He is also a former advisor to President Bill Clinton, serving as his speechwriter.

The Supreme Court, “issued an instruction manual for lawbreaking presidents,” Waldman wrote on X.

“There are reasons to be nervous about prosecuting former presidents. So some standards make sense,” he wrote. “Here, though, the Court has issued an instruction manual for lawbreaking presidents. Make sure you conspire only with other government employees. You’ll never be held to account.”

University of Minnesota law professor Jill Hasday said that the ruling gives cover for presidents to have their political rivals assassinated, a scenario dreamt up by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissent.

“It’s easy to think of nightmare scenarios, and Sotomayor does. So, for instance, one of her scenarios is suppose the president orders the military to assassinate a political rival,” Hasday told Minnesota Public Radio.

“Well, isn’t directing military operations within the president’s exclusive authority? So wouldn’t he have absolute immunity, especially because the court tells us elsewhere that motive doesn’t matter in evaluating immunity claims,” Hasday said.

“So, it seems like this opinion establishes absolute immunity for political assassinations.”

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.