Wyoming Split On Landmark Ruling That Trump Can’t Be Prosecuted For Official Acts

Wyoming legal opinions are split on Monday’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that former President Donald Trump is immune from prosecution for official acts in office.

Clair McFarland

July 01, 20246 min read

Former President Donald Trump during a Save America rally in Casper, Wyoming, on May 28, 2022.
Former President Donald Trump during a Save America rally in Casper, Wyoming, on May 28, 2022. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Former President Donald Trump is largely immune from being prosecuted criminally for official acts he took during his tenure, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.

Trump is “absolutely immune” from being prosecuted for things he did to fulfill the U.S. Constitution’s presidential duties. And he’s “presumptively immune” from prosecution for other official acts, meaning the current federal administration can still prosecute him if it can prove it’s not going to intrude upon the executive branch in doing so.

He is not immune from crimes he allegedly committed while not fulfilling his official duties.

The ruling stems from a federal criminal indictment against Trump for allegedly trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election by encouraging corruption and chaos.

Proponents of Monday’s ruling say it’s vital to prevent political witch hunts and preserve the nation’s separation of governmental powers.

Detractors say it places Trump and future presidents above the law, and above the people they’re elected to serve.

Meanwhile, In Wyoming

Wyoming Rep. Ken Chestek, D-Laramie, was aghast Monday as he read the 6-3 ruling.

Chestek, who’s also an attorney, said it not only insulates Trump from huge swaths of the indictment, it will delay his trial on any charges that remain until next year at least, after this year’s presidential election.

Chestek also questioned the majority’s ruling, especially where it says that Trump can’t be prosecuted for approaching his own attorney general about investigating and/or overturning the 2020 election results.

“He may say, ‘I’m trying to ensure election integrity.’ That’s not his job. It’s the job of the states to run elections,” said Chestek. “And it would make no sense to have a candidate for the election be in charge of running his own election. We know that invites fraud, which this guy is capable of doing and willing to do.”

Chestek hadn’t yet read Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent when he spoke with Cowboy State Daily, but he launched some of the same critiques she did, such as whether the president can now sell pardons since granting pardons is a constitutional duty of the president and can’t fall under criminal indictment now.

“He can get away with that kind of crime because it’s a core constitutional provision,” said Chestek. “Pardon power is something that’s very dangerous in the hands of a corrupt person – which I do believe Donald Trump is a corrupt person.”

‘Right On The Money’

Conversely, former Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Bill Hill said the U.S. Supreme Court opinion was expected and is “right on the money.”

Hill noted the majority’s insistence that the federal district court overseeing Trump’s case quickly proclaimed him prosecutable without sifting through enough evidence.

Now, the district court will have to hold hearings on whether Trump was acting officially when he did the things he’s accused of doing. Then it will have to dismiss evidence tied to Trump’s “absolute immunity” acts.

“This is nothing but a correction,” said Hill. “It’s a very important decision and I am not surprised at that decision.”

Back Down To District Court

Authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — and joined by Justice Amy Coney Barrett in part — the majority opinion emphasizes the isolation of the executive branch from the other two branches of federal government.

The fate of that structure can’t hang on prosecutors’ claims that they’ll remain politically impartial, says the opinion.

“As for the government’s assurances that prosecutors and grand juries will not permit political or baseless prosecutions from advancing in the first place, those assurances … fail to account for the president’s ‘unique position in the constitutional scheme,’” says the opinion. “We do not ordinarily decline to decide significant constitutional questions based on the government’s promises of good faith … ,or do we do so today.”

As to removing official-acts evidence from the trial pool in crimes tied to unofficial acts, the majority defended that decision, saying letting juries probe acts a president did to fulfill his office could politically prejudice them in cases that are supposed to be about crimes, not politics.

Doing that, just like allowing prosecution for presidential acts, would “distort” the office so that no president could fulfill his office without fear he’d be locked up once he left it, the opinion says.

It adds: “The interests that underlie presidential immunity seek to protect not the president himself, but the institution of the presidency.”

Dystopia, Says Sotomayor

Joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown-Jackson, Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s primary dissent predicts a fuming dystopia on the nation’s horizon.

“Today’s decision … makes a mockery of the principle, foundational to our Constitution and system of government, that no man is above the law,” wrote Sotomayor.

She derided the majority’s use of an earlier case giving presidents immunity from monetary lawsuits, saying even that case said that the public is more vulnerable to presidential crimes than civil wrongs.

Sotomayor cast Trump as a power-hungry egoist who would trample voters’ rights to remain in charge. She accused the majority of fabricating a ruling without adequate historical or textual support.

Sotomayor claimed that no act alleged in Trump’s indictment falls within his constitutional duties, and called that point of the majority’s opinion meaningless.

Also meaningless, wrote Sotomayor, is the majority’s test by which the government can prosecute Trump for certain official acts — by proving its prosecution doesn’t infringe the executive branch’s function.

The government won’t be able to do that, and certainly not under the Supreme Court makeup of this generation, Sotomayor indicated.

The dissent takes the reader through dark hypotheticals.

What if the president “orders the Navy’s Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune,” says the dissent.

The majority opinion calls these tales of “chilling doom” that exaggerate what it has actually done: declare Trump’s conversations with his Department of Justice immune from prosecution and send the rest of the indictment back to the trial court with a new analysis to consider.

Untrammeled by that counterpoint, the dissent concludes: “In every use of official power, the president is now a king above the law.”

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter