In the CNN News clip Analyst: Trump doesn't have legal power to do what he's threatening former federal and state prosecutor and current CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said:

Last month by a 7 to 2 vote the Supreme Court rejected the claim that he was absolutely immune to the Manhattan DA1’s subpoena. They sent the case back down to the district court to consider all the other claims. This week a district court judge Victor Marrero2 who I have appeared in front of firmly rejected those other claims and threw it out of court...

Question: This is a naive question, but did the two dissenting Supreme Court justices therefore agree that Trump was absolutely immune to the Manhattan DA's subpoena, or were their opinions more subtle and nuanced?

1DA = District Attorney


  • Does the phrase "Manhattan DA" here refer to the federal DA? Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 2:41
  • @MichaelHardy I only have the quote itself, but TW's answer calls it a "state subpoena" in the 3rd paragraph so perhaps not. You might comment there for further clarification.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 4:07
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    Great question! Nothing against it. Just curious why this is here, not law stack exchange?
    – user6241
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 1:34
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    @MarkdaSilva when a question is on-topic in multiple sites I decide based on 1) what kind of answer would be most helpful to me and which community is most likely to generate it, and 2) where answers would be most interesting for future readers. This succeeded on both counts; I received an answer that omitted the "gory details" that might have been the primary focus of an answer in Law SE and instead explained in plain language, and with 4.4 k views and currently 71 up votes on the answer, readers appear to have found that answer interesting and/or helpful!
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 2:34
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    @MarkdaSilva Questions about law are on-topic on both Politics Stack Exchange and Law Stack Exchange if they are laws which directly apply to political processes. Whether or not a politician has immunity from certain legal processes due to them holding a political office is such a question.
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 7:57

1 Answer 1


For those interested in the gory details, please see the full decision in Trump v. Vance. The first half of the linked document contains the Court's majority opinion and the concurring opinion of Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, followed by the separate dissenting opinions of Justices Thomas and Alito.

Based on a quick read, it's apparent that Justice Thomas agrees with the general court's opinion that a sitting President "is not entitled to absolute immunity from issuance of [a] subpoena". Thomas dissents on the grounds that the President "may be entitled to relief against [a subpoena's] enforcement" based on his special status as president. Thomas argues (agreeing with the president) that the case should be vacated and returned to the lower court, so that the President can argue that his duties to the nation take up all of his time and attention and he thus deserves relief from the subpoena.

Justice Alito makes a stronger dissent. While he agrees that a sitting President is not absolutely immune from a state subpoena, he argues that such a subpoena should not be enforced unless it meets a stringent legal test, such that:

  1. It does not interfere with the President's execution of his duties of office, and
  2. It carries a weight of urgency — e.g., subpoenaing information related to suspected treason — as a guarantee it is not merely issued to harass.

In the absence of those conditions, in Alito's opinion, the President is only subject to the constitutional process of impeachment and trial in Congress.

So no, neither dissenting Justice suggests that the President is absolutely immune from this kind of subpoena. Instead, they are concerned that the issuance of such subpoenas might negatively impact on the President's ability to perform the duties of the office, and argue that the President might legitimately be granted varying degrees of relief from such legal actions at a court's discretion.

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    Comments deleted. This is not a place to debate how the President of the United States should spend his time. Please keep comments relevant to the answer.
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 9:24
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    The website oyez.org is a great resource that provides court transcripts synced to the oral-argument audio. The oral arguments for this case were largely taken up with the give-or-take around the issue of negative impact as @tedwrigley points out.
    – Yorik
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 19:59

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