Trump hails 'big win for democracy' after US Supreme Court decision over his immunity claim

The US Supreme Court has sent Donald Trump's claim he is immune from prosecution for his actions while president back to a lower court.

Trump faces prosecution over his role in the deadly 6 January riots in 2021 at the Capitol in Washington DC, after he encouraged his supporters to gather at Congress to oppose the approval of Joe Biden's 2020 election win; and alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election result.

The former president had been charged with conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiring against the right of Americans to vote and corruptly obstructing an official proceeding and conspiring to do so.

In a historic 6-3 ruling, the justices said for the first time that former presidents have absolute immunity from prosecution for their official acts, but no immunity for unofficial acts.

But instead of deciding for themselves, the justices ordered lower courts to work out precisely how to apply their decision to Trump's case.

The lower court must now decide whether he was acting officially or privately.

Shortly after the decision was released Trump posted on his social media network: "BIG WIN FOR OUR CONSTITUTION AND DEMOCRACY. PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!"

'The president is now king above law'

The three liberal justices all dissented from the majority opinion.

One of them, Sonia Sotomayor, wrote: "Today's decision to grant former presidents criminal immunity reshapes the institution of the presidency. It makes a mockery of the principle, foundational to our constitution and system of government, that no man is above the law."

Ms Sotomayor added: "In every use of official power, the president is now a king above the law." She concluded: "With fear for our democracy, I dissent."

Former attorney general Eric Holder said the decision was "absurd and dangerous", tweeting: "Our democracy has been gravely wounded."

Slow handling of case favours Trump

Trump's legal team had argued he was immune from prosecution as he was serving as president when he took the actions leading to the charges.

Special Counsel Jack Smith, who brought the charges in August last year, has opposed presidential immunity from prosecution based on the principle no one is above the law.

A trial had been scheduled to start on 4 March, before the delays over the immunity issue. Now no trial date is set.

The Supreme Court's decision adds further delays, and if Trump becomes president again in November he may be able to use his powers to dismiss the charges against him.

The court's slow handling of the case has already helped Trump by making it unlikely any trial on these charges could be completed before the election on 5 November.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He still faces three other indictments.

The cases against Trump

Mr Smith is leading two federal probes into the former president, both of which have led to criminal charges.

The Washington case focuses on Trump's alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election, while a case in Florida revolves around the mishandling of classified documents. A further case in Georgia also revolves around Trump's actions after his defeat in 2020.

Trump has said the cases against him are politically motivated attempts to keep him from returning to the White House.

Trump, 78, became the first former president to be convicted of a felony in May.

He was found guilty of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment made during the 2016 presidential election to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had sex with him - a claim he denies.