The Supreme Court’s Blockbuster Term That Gave Trump Immunity

A series of landmark decisions begin a new chapter in American history.

The story

The U.S. Supreme Court ended its term on Monday, delivering dozens of major rulings that will greatly impact the nature of American governance and society. The court tackled Donald Trump’s immunity, abortion, the administrative state, the First and Second Amendments, and much more.

Here is a brief breakdown of some of the Supreme Court’s biggest decisions from this term:

The cases

Donald Trump

Trump v. United States: In a bombshell ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Donald Trump “may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers, and he is entitled, at a minimum, to a presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts.”

Federal charges — that were politicized — were brought against the former president, claiming he attempted to subvert the 2020 election and started the January 6 riot. While the court ruled that the sitting president “enjoys no immunity for unofficial acts,” this ruling is a win for Donald Trump.

Now, the case will return to the lower court, where it will have to decide whether Trump’s actions on January 6 were his own private actions, for which he can be prosecuted, or part of his essential duties as president, for which he cannot be prosecuted.

The case will likely be postponed until after the November election.

Trump v. Anderson: Because of the January 6 riot, some Colorado voters tried to have Trump’s name removed from the Colorado ballot, arguing that he violated Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits officeholders who take an oath to protect the Constitution from holding office again if they engage in an act of insurrection.

However, the court unanimously agreed that only Congress, not the states, can remove a federal candidate on those grounds.

The administrative state

Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo & Relentless v. Department of Commerce: In what may be the most consequential decision since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court overturned the 1984 Chevron doctrine, which had allowed courts to defer to federal agencies' interpretations of ambiguous laws instead of deferring to Congress — the nation’s lawmaking body. Chief Justice John Roberts now struck down that doctrine, labeling it “fundamentally misguided.”

Many conservatives hail the overturning of the Chevron doctrine as a triumph because it will curtail the power of executive agencies. They argue that the Chevron decision undermined Congress's lawmaking authority by allowing unelected bureaucrats to create and interpret statutes affecting hundreds of millions of Americans.

Ohio v. Environmental Protection Agency: In a 5-4 decision, the court halted the Environmental Protection Agency's "Good Neighbor" rule, which aims to reduce air pollution that crosses state lines and affects downwind states' ability to meet air quality standards. Justice Gorsuch, writing for the majority, argued that the EPA exceeded its authority, infringing on states' rights and imposing costly industry regulations.

January 6

Fischer v. United States: In a 6-3 ruling, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joined the conservatives, and Amy Coney Barrett joined the liberals. The court decided that the Justice Department overreached by charging hundreds of January 6 rioters with obstruction of justice.

The charges alleged that their participation aimed to prevent the certification of election results, though ultimately found that forcing their way into the Capitol building does not in itself constitute obstruction. This is unrelated to the fact that vast swaths of the protesters were allowed into the Capitol and did not need to force their way in.

Free speech and civil liberties

Murthy v. Missouri: The court ruled 6-3 against limiting the government's ability to communicate with social media companies regarding “misinformation.” The plaintiffs, including Republican state attorneys general, argued that the government’s actions to reach out to social media companies to remove certain posts violated free speech.

The plaintiffs were found to lack standing due to insufficient evidence of direct harm, though Justice Alito wrote a scathing dissent emphasizing the case's free speech implications.

Lindke v. Freed & O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier: The court agreed 9-0 that public officials cannot ban people from commenting on their social media pages if they are acting as government officials on social media. On the same grounds, the court decided a similar case, O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier, ruling that public officials cannot block people from their social media pages.

Moody v. NetChoice, LLC & NetChoice, LLC v. Paxton: The Supreme Court sidestepped making a decision on Texas and Florida's laws enacted after January 6 to prevent what they saw as social media companies unfairly removing conservative posts due to their viewpoints. The court ruled that the lower court did not sufficiently address the free speech implications of the case and ordered them to take it up further.

A key issue in this case is whether content moderation by social media platforms equates to censorship, as Justice Alito suggested. The debate centers on whether governments can restrict social media platforms that hundreds of millions of Americans use for political expression.

National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo: The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a New York official violated the First Amendment when she pressured banks and insurance companies to avoid doing business with the NRA. The court decided that the official crossed the line from merely urging these entities to cut ties with the NRA to actual coercion.

Big Pharma

Harrington v. Purdue Pharma L.P.: The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to block a multi-billion-dollar bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, preventing it from shielding the Sackler family (the former owners of Purdue Pharma) from liability for opioid-related claims.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, stated that federal bankruptcy laws do not permit the Sacklers to be released from liability without the consent of creditors and victims. He noted that the decision might expose the Sacklers to considerable lawsuits but argued that Congress, not the courts, should address such issues.

Abortion

Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine: The Supreme Court upheld access to the abortion pill mifepristone, ruling unanimously that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the FDA's approval. Justice Kavanaugh emphasized that ideological objections alone do not grant standing and that such issues should be resolved politically.

Moyle v. United States: The court’s dismissal of two cases — Moyle v. United States and Idaho v. United States — temporarily allowed emergency abortions in Idaho. The Supreme Court was forced to dismiss this case, thus allowing emergency abortions, because the opinion was accidentally released on the court’s website.

Guns

United States v. Rahimi: In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court upheld a federal law preventing individuals with domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms, ruling it consistent with the Second Amendment based on the 2022 Bruen case standards.

Garland v. Cargill: The Trump administration's bump stock ban was struck down in this case, with the court rejecting the argument that these devices make rifles into machine guns, which are federally prohibited.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, emphasized that Congress could have banned all high-rate-of-fire weapons but chose not to, meaning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives overreached by extending the machine gun ban to bump stocks.

Immigration

Department of State v. Muñoz: In a 6-3 decision led by Justice Amy Coney Barrett and backed by the conservative justices, the court ruled that U.S. citizens do not have the constitutional right to challenge the visa denial of their non-citizen spouses. A contentious issue in this case is that the illegal immigrant spouse was alleged to be a member of the violent MS-13 gang.

However, just days before the Supreme Court's decision, the Biden administration authorized that illegal migrant spouses of U.S. citizens would be eligible for “Parole-in-Place.” Parole-in-Place allows the migrant to stay in the U.S. while their visa applications are processed, avoiding the need to leave the country, as would have been required in Muñoz.

Homelessness

City of Grants Pass v. Johnson: In a 6-3 decision split down partisan lines, the court found it does not violate the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to ban homeless people from camping in public places. Justice Sotomayor, dissenting, said the homeless are left “with an impossible choice: Either stay awake or be arrested.”

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