Front Page Talking Points


Turning point: Supreme Court says presidents have 'absolute immunity' for official acts


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American presidents gain broad legal protection against being charged with crimes because of a landmark Supreme Court ruling. On the first day of this month, the justices issued a 6-3 decision giving presidents immunity for any official actions. The historic ruling came on an appeal by ex-President Donald Trump of 2020 election interference accusations. His criminal case now goes back to a federal district court judge so she can decide if any charges involve unofficial actions and can proceed to trial.

This pushes the case past November's election. It already has delayed sentencing of Trump in New York this week on 34 felony counts related to "hush money" payments to a woman during his first campaign in 2016. His lawyers say last week's ruling in Washington, D.C., confirms their position that a Manhattan prosecutor shouldn't have been allowed to offer evidence regarding "official acts" by Trump. Sentencing is pushed to Sept. 18 to allow time for hearings on that new claim.

"Big win for our Constitution and democracy. Proud to be an American," Trump posted in all caps on social media after the Supreme Court news. Hours later, President Joe Biden said at the White House: "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. . . . For all practical purposes, today's decision essentially means that there are no limits on what a president can do."

The majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts says: "The nature of presidential power requires that a former president have some immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts during his tenure in office. At least with respect to the president's exercise of his core constitutional powers, this immunity must be absolute." In a sharp-edged dissent that she read from the bench, Justice Sonia Sotomayor writes: "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." She was joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Katanji Brown Jackson. A prominent legal affairs blogger and podcaster, former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance, posts that the majority's "decision signals that they believe it's more important to create a powerful presidency – a long-term policy goal for conservatives – than it is to be concerned with how a president could abuse that concentrated power, including to try and overturn an election."

Chief justice says: "Immunity is required to safeguard the independence and effective functioning of the Executive Branch, and to enable the president to carry out his constitutional duties without undue caution." – John Roberts

Main dissent says: "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." – Sonia Sotomayor

President Biden says: "Each of us is equal before the law. No one is above it – not even a president. With this week's Supreme Court decision on presidential immunity, there are now virtually no limits on what a president can do. That is a new, dangerous precedent.” – Social media post, July 2

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2024

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.