Trump immunity case: What the Supreme Court ruling means for his Jan. 6 trial

In a 6-3 opinion released Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that former President Donald Trump – and all presidents – have absolute immunity from prosecution for any acts committed in an official capacity while in the office of the presidency. The opinion also noted that presidents have no immunity for unofficial acts. 

The ruling essentially punted the decision on how this applies to Trump's Jan. 6 case back to a lower court for further evaluation. The justices directed trial U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to determine which allegations in Trump’s indictment constitute official acts, and must therefore be stricken from the case, and which do not.

READ MORE: Supreme Court sends Trump immunity case back to lower court

So what exactly does this ruling mean for the former president and the criminal case seeking to prosecute him for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots? Here are three key takeaways: 

1. No criminal trial before Election Day

The Supreme Court ruled that a president is absolutely immune from criminal prosecution for official acts but has no immunity for unofficial acts. 

In the case of former President Donald Trump, District Court Judge Chutkan will now determine which acts Trump is alleged to have committed in the indictment are immune from prosecution. 

In order to do that, she will take briefings and hear arguments from Trump’s defense team and Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office. Even if Chutkan is able to reach a decision on official versus unofficial acts in a few weeks, that decision will almost certainly get appealed by the losing side therefore likely pausing any potential trial. 

In fact, the decision could be appealed and get sent back up to the Supreme Court once again, which will not convene again until the first Monday in October — just one month shy of the election.

2. Special Counsel Jack Smith is now limited in what evidence he can use

Special Counsel Jack Smith can still move forward with his case against Trump but only for unofficial or private actions Trump took while in office.

The Supreme Court said that prosecutors cannot use evidence about conduct that is immune from prosecution, even if an indictment alleges only unofficial conduct.

For example, the court held that Trump is absolutely immune from criminal charges related to pressuring former Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen to help overturn the election results in Georgia including threatening to fire Rosen to install Trump loyalist Jeffrey Clark. 

If prosecutors wanted to show that Trump knew his allegations of election fraud were false when he was talking to state officials and the general public, they could not use evidence that senior officials in the Department of Justice told him there was no election fraud because those discussions are protected.

3. We now have a three-tier system for presidential immunity

The justices split 6-3 along ideological lines dividing a president’s conduct, along with his level of protection from prosecution, into three tiers.

At the top, writing for the majority Chief Justice John Roberts said a president enjoys absolute immunity for acts within his core constitutional powers. That includes acting as Commander in Chief, presidential pardons and communications with his cabinet officials including the Attorney General.

In this category, the court held Trump is absolutely immune from any criminal charges related to pressuring former Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen to help overturn the election results in Georgia including threatening to fire Rosen to install Trump loyalist Jeffrey Clark.

In the second tier down — all other official acts that aren’t necessarily a core power but still within the president’s authority — he enjoys either absolute immunity or at least the presumption that his actions are immune.

The court said the president’s pressure campaign on former Vice President Mike Pence falls into this category. Including that Trump pressured Pence to use his role as president of the Senate to stall the vote to certify the electoral college count on Jan. 6.

The third and final tier is unofficial acts that are not immune. But the court's made it very difficult for prosecutors for two reasons: One, when judges are deciding whether an act is official or unofficial they cannot consider the president’s motives. And two, prosecutors cannot use anything involving an official act as evidence to charge other crimes. 

RELATED: Politicians react to SCOTUS ruling on Trump's immunity case

Trump reacted to the Supreme Court's ruling on his presidential immunity case with a post on his social media platform Truth Social saying it's a "big win for our constitution and democracy." 

Texas Congressman Ronny Jackson said "BIG WIN FROM SCOTUS!! President Trump said it best: if a president doesn’t have immunity, nothing can be accomplished in office."

Democrats, meanwhile, decried the decision as a violation of democracy that allows the nation's leader to act with absolute impunity. 

President Joe Biden condemned the ruling, stating that the Supreme Court's decision on immunity means "there are virtually no limits" on a president's actions.

"I know I will respect the limits of presidential power as I have for the past three and a half years, but any president, including Donald Trump, will now be free to ignore the law," he said.

And vocal Democratic Congresswoman posted on X, warning of what she called the consolidation of power. 

"I can’t believe the cultist consolidation of power that is taking place before our eyes; IN AMERICA! This most recent ruling, along with so many others, is dangerous," Crockett wrote. "If you aren’t frightened, you aren’t paying attention."