Neal Katyal on Trump immunity ruling: “The law, the courts are not going to protect us against a president who wants to violate the law”

“As grave a shift in our constitutional system as any in our lifetimes”

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Citation From the July 1, 2024, edition of MSNBC's Ana Cabrera Reports

NEAL KATYAL (FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL): Yeah I mean I want to zoom out and not talk about buckets of evidence or anything like that. The big picture here is this is a six-to-three decision along what looked to the American public like partisan line — six Republican-appointed justices siding with Trump, three Democratic-appointed justices siding against Trump, and it is a momentous major decision.

And I want to read to you from what Justice Sotomayor says at the end of her dissent because I've never seen language like this in a Supreme Court opinion. She says, quote, never in the history of our republic has a president had reason to believe he would be immune from criminal prosecution if he used the trappings of his office to violate the criminal law. Moving forward, however, all former presidents will be cloaked in such immunity. If the occupant of that office misuses official power for personal gain, the criminal law that the rest of us must abide will not provide a backstop, and here's how she ends her dissent, Katy, With fear for our democracy, I dissent.

KATY TUR (ANCHOR): I mean, it doesn't get stronger than that, Neal.

KATYAL: With fear for our democracy, I dissent. It doesn't get stronger than that and that's the -- 

TUR: Neal, have you ever heard — sorry to interrupt you, but have you ever heard a justice be that strongly worded about the state of our democracy?

KATYAL: I have not. I have not, and what she is signaling here is, it's not just about the Trump January 6th case. It's about every president who goes forward, indeed possibly Trump next year, and being immune now from the criminal law to be able to use the Justice Department in ways the court today calls absolutely immune — to undermine elections, to go after individuals, this is a, you know, according to the dissent, which, you know, it seems like as grave a shift in our constitutional system as any in our lifetimes.

TUR: Let me bring in a little bit more from Sotomayor's dissent because she gets into some of the specifics that were argued in court.

She says, looking beyond the fate of this particular prosecution, the long-term consequences of today's decision are stark. The court effectively creates a law-free zone around the president, upsetting the status quo that has existed since the founding. This new official acts immunity now lies about like a loaded weapon for any president that wishes to place his own interest, his own political survival, or his own financial gain above the interests of the nation. The President of the United States is the most powerful person in the country and possibly the world when he uses his official powers in any way. Under the majority's reasoning, he now will be insulated from criminal prosecution. Orders the Navy S.E.A.L. 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, immune, immune, immune. Let the president violate the law. Let him exploit the trappings of his office for personal gain. Let him use his official power for evil ends. Because if he knew that he may one day face liability for breaking the law, he might not be as bold and fearless as we would like him to be. That's a quote from the majority opinion that she's using here. That is the majority's message today. Even if these nightmare scenarios never play out, and I pray they never do, the damage has been done. The relationship between the president and the people he serves has shifted irrevocably. In every use of official power, the president is now a king above the law.

That is all from Justice Sotomayor's dissent. Neal, she's arguing that he can assassinate somebody now. Is that what this majority opinion is saying?

KATYAL: Yes, that is basically what she's saying, the majority is saying, and I'm sure that is how Trump will take it. And if you ever thought about the stakes in November and what they were, this opinion makes them very, very clear. The law is not going to be a check against the next president. You have to have someone in power who you can trust to execute the laws faithfully and to comply with the Constitution, and you know, now the stakes are astronomical in the way they might not have been before.

This is a, you know, a clarion call to the American public to understand the law, the courts are not going to protect us against a president who wants to violate the law. The Supreme Court's basically said you can do that, just slap the label official act on it and maybe there will be a hearing over some pieces of it, and there won't even be a hearing when it comes to things like pressuring the Justice Department to break the law and to do what you want for your personal ends. So this is a really grave decision and I think we should be focused on, you know, Justice Sotomayor's warning and not the, you know, technical details just about what this means for the January 6th prosecutions.