Key facts from the Supreme Court's immunity ruling and how it affects presidential power (2024)

This fact check originally appeared on PolitiFact.

In a landmark ruling with potentially major impact on the 2024 presidential campaign, a U.S. Supreme Court majority ruled that presidents — including former President Donald Trump — have immunity from prosecution when carrying out “official acts.”

“Under our constitutional structure of separated powers, the nature of Presidential power entitles a former President to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority,” the court wrote. “And he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts. There is no immunity for unofficial acts.”

The July 1 decision in Trump v. United States fell along partisan lines, with the six conservative justices voting in the majority and the three liberal justices dissenting.

READ MORE: What does the Supreme Court immunity ruling mean for Trump? 6 questions answered

The ruling follows the June 27 presidential debate and comes amid a campaign in which both political parties have cried foul over perceived abuses of presidential power. This issue is sure to become an issue on the campaign trail.

Here are some key facts to keep in mind from the ruling.

The ruling almost certainly helps Trump avoid further trials before the election

In the short term, the ruling will almost certainly delay past this November’s general election Trump’s federal prosecution on charges that he interfered with the 2020 election. That’s because the justices sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to determine which elements of the indictment would count as official and unofficial acts, a process that legal experts said cannot be sorted out before Election Day, especially because any trial court decisions could be appealed.

“Today’s ruling ensures that no criminal prosecution of Trump may proceed before the election,” Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, said in an email. “Trump will raise this opinion as a defense.”

The campaigns have highlighted perceived presidential power abuses

Trump replied on Truth Social, “BIG WIN FOR OUR CONSTITUTION AND DEMOCRACY. PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!” In a fundraising email, the Trump campaign wrote “Crooked Joe Biden KNEW this case would fall apart, but he STILL had his out-of-control DOJ try to TAKE ME DOWN!”

Biden is not responsible for decisions by prosecutors to present cases to grand juries.

Trump has previously called the New York case a “Biden trial” which we rated false. The Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into Trump’s business records began before Biden was president, but Biden was president by the time Trump was charged in 2023. While District Attorney Alvin Bragg hired a former Justice Department lawyer, that doesn’t prove that Biden directed the prosecution.

The Biden campaign said in a statement, “Today’s ruling doesn’t change the facts, so let’s be very clear about what happened on January 6th: Donald Trump snapped after he lost the 2020 election and encouraged a mob to overthrow the results of a free and fair election.” On that day, Trump held a “Save America” rally at which he repeatedly said there was a need to “fight” and invited his supporters to go to the Capitol. Trump often highlights that he used the word “peacefully” during his remarks.

WATCH LIVE: Biden addresses Supreme Court ruling on presidential immunity and Trump

The Biden campaign also highlighted past Trump statements including that he is “promising to be a dictator ‘on Day 1’” — a reference to Trump’s December interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, when Trump said during the interview that he would be a dictator only on “Day 1” adding “We are closing the border and we are drilling, drilling, drilling. After that I am not a dictator, OK?”

Trump has made other comments that sound authoritarian. The Biden campaign also said Trump had promised “a bloodbath if he loses.”

Trump was discussing the auto industry and electric vehicles in March when he made the “bloodbath” comment.

Biden’s campaign also highlighted Trump’s remark about terminating the Constitution. In 2022, Trump said on Truth Social that election fraud could be the basis for the “termination” of rules found in the Constitution, although days later he sought to walk back his words, writing in a new post, “The Fake News is actually trying to convince the American People that I said I wanted to ‘terminate’ the Constitution, and called it “disinformation and lies.”

We fact-checked Trump’s statement that election fraud allows the termination of rules including in the Constitution and rated it Pants on Fire.

The ruling significantly limits checks on presidential power

The ruling’s longer-term implications could be just as important as its impact on Trump’s legal cases.

Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion is the “ultimate clapback for Watergate,” Stephen Griffin, a Tulane University law professor, said in an email. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon “need never have feared prosecution, and President Gerald Ford’s pardon would have been completely unnecessary.”

READ: The full Supreme Court decision on Trump and presidential immunity

Justice Sonia Sotomayor made this argument in her sharply worded dissent, which Mark Osler, a University of St. Thomas law professor, called “the most chilling part” of the opinions released today.

Sotomayor wrote that the decision “effectively creates a law-free zone around the president, upsetting the status quo that has existed since the founding. … 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. Immune, immune, immune. … In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.”

The majority offered phrases in its opinion that suggest limits to presidential immunity.

Roberts argued that “the president is not above the law,” writing that “the president enjoys no immunity for his unofficial acts, and not everything the president does is official.”

However, Roberts added that a president “may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers, and he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for his official acts.”

The ruling “effectively makes criminal prosecutions of former presidents all but impossible, whatever Roberts may have said,” Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri emeritus law professor, said. “Virtually any awful thing a president can do in office can arguably be placed in either the core power or official conduct box, thus affording the president’s crimes either absolute or presumptive immunity.”

The majority opinion also set other obstacles to prosecuting a president. For instance, the opinion says, “In dividing official from unofficial conduct, courts may not inquire into the president’s motives.”

Another aspect of the ruling is notably sweeping, said Joan Meyer, a partner at the law firm Thompson Hine LLP who has worked as a federal and local prosecutor.

“Testimony or records of the former president and his advisors relating to the immune conduct may not be admitted into evidence at trial,” Meyer said. “It’s one thing to say that the immune conduct cannot be charged as a criminal violation. It is another to say the prosecutor cannot enter any evidence about it to explain the facts and circ*mstances supporting the permissible charges.”

On this point, Justice Amy Coney Barrett broke with the majority’s other five members. “I appreciate the Court’s concern that allowing into evidence official acts for which the President cannot be held criminally liable may prejudice the jury,” Barrett wrote. “But the rules of evidence are equipped to handle that concern on a case-by-case basis.”

Given how the oral arguments went, “I was not surprised that the court granted immunity for official acts,” Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt said. However, he added that he was “surprised by how broadly they seemed to define what constitutes an official act.”

Likely no impact on Trump’s conviction and sentencing in Manhattan case, for now

A unanimous jury in the Manhattan case concluded May 30 that Trump was guilty of all 34 counts of falsifying business records in an alleged scheme to cover up a hush money payment to adult film actor Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 11, a few days before the Republican National Convention. Trump has said he will appeal.

Jerry Goldfeder, a lawyer in New York who specializes in campaign finance and election law, said the immunity ruling shouldn’t affect Judge Juan Merchan’s sentencing decision in the business records case.

Trump in his appeal may raise the immunity issue, which will be litigated up to the highest court in New York and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court, Goldfeder said.

Trump’s case in Georgia could be affected, to a degree

A legal expert said the Supreme Court’s decision could have some impact in Trump’s fourth legal case, involving an indictment by a Fulton County grand jury for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University, told PolitiFact that the “vast majority of the Fulton County indictment against Trump is unaffected by today’s decision.”

However, the ruling could restrict some evidence from being used, such as conversations between Trump and Trump administration officials including Jefffrey Clark, a Justice Department official, and Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, Kreis said. Clark and Meadows were among the co-defendants prosecuted by Fulton County.

Those conversations “will be part of protected conduct that cannot be used against Trump as evidence in furtherance of proving other charges.”

The ruling “also complicates how the defendants get tried,” Kreis said. “I am doubtful Clark and Meadows can be tried alongside Trump now, which somewhat complicates how the trial might move forward.”

The Fulton County prosecution had already faced delays, which made a trial before November unlikely even before the Supreme Court’s ruling.

University of Georgia law professor Melissa Redmon, a former Fulton County prosecutor, said that the Fulton case as a whole remains intact, but it will have some impact. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said he would wait for the Supreme Court ruling on immunity before deciding how to proceed in the Georgia case.

PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Key facts from the Supreme Court's immunity ruling and how it affects presidential power (2024)
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