An earlier version of this article was published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here. To submit a question to next week’s Friday Mailbag, email onthetrail@deseretnews.com.

Hello, friends. Happy holiday week to all.

3 things to know

  • Calls to replace Biden on the Democratic ticket are getting louder, and the first batch of post-debate polls show a rough path ahead for the president. A majority of Americans think President Joe Biden is too old or too cognitively impaired to serve another term, and almost half of Democrats think the party should pick another candidate. Read more here.
  • The Supreme Court ruled Monday that presidents have immunity for their “official” acts under the Constitution. Donald Trump’s election interference case — which hinges upon the question of whether Trump had legal immunity during his time in office — will go back to a lower court. Read more here.
  • Kamala Harris visited Utah on Friday, participating in a fundraiser in Park City. She acknowledged that Biden’s suffered from “a slow start” at last week’s debate, but said the president is a “profound thinker.” Read more here.

The Big Idea

Will Trump be held accountable?

Will Trump be held responsible for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election? That’s the question driving coverage of Monday’s Supreme Court decision — though the court never took the question head-on.

The justices punted Trump’s election subversion case back down to a lower court, providing only a framework for determining what actions a president can and cannot be held legally responsibly for while in office. The court determined, in a 6-3 decision, that U.S. presidents are immune from prosecution for their official acts as president but can be held accountable for their private conduct.

The decision was made along ideological lines: the six conservative-appointed justices concurred, and the three liberal-appointed justices dissented. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in drafting the dissenting opinion, said that the decision would allow presidents to be “insulated from criminal prosecution,” regardless of their actions as president: “Orders the Navy’s Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune,” Sotomayor wrote. “Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune.”

The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, took a different tack: the president is “not above the law,” Roberts wrote. But he is immune from prosecution whenever he exercises “his core constitutional powers.”

What does that mean for Trump’s case? Here are three things voters should know — just four months away from Election Day.

First: the line between “official” and “unofficial” is blurry. The majority opinion made it clear that U.S. presidents would be protected for actions performed in their official capacity as president — but “the court isn’t super clear where the line is,” said James C. Phillips, the Constitutional Government Initiative director at Brigham Young University’s Wheatley Institute. In the majority opinion’s parlance, Trump is protected for actions “within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority.”

Second: There could be overlap between “official” and “unofficial.” Running for office, for example, is not an act within the president’s official capacity under the Constitution, but the court acknowledged that some of Trump’s campaign-related activities — including those at the center of the prosecution’s arguments in the election subversion case — are protected. For example, when Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to alter the election results, the court determined that he was “at least presumptively immune from prosecution” for doing this, since a president and vice president are engaged in “official conduct” whenever they “discuss their official responsibilities.”

Third: Trump may never be held accountable. Since the Supreme Court passed the case to lower courts, the trials could be prolonged — and almost certainly won’t conclude this year. “I just don’t think we’re going to get to a trial before Inauguration Day, much less Election Day,” said Phillips. If Trump is reelected, a sitting president cannot be prosecuted, so that would further delay any lingering cases. But, of course, as the chief executive, Trump would have tools at his disposal to keep the prosecutions from ever coming to light.

The Supreme Court opinion in former President Donald Trump's immunity case is photographed Monday, July 1, 2024. In a historic ruling the justices said for the first time former presidents can be shielded from prosecution for at least some of what they do in the Oval Office. | Jon Elswick

What I’m reading

Trump will announce his VP pick sometime in the next few weeks — between now and the Republican National Convention. Much ado has been made of his “shortlist.” But that rumored roster — Doug Burgum, Tim Scott, Marco Rubio, or JD Vance — may not deliver Trump key voting blocs, like women, suburbanites or “burn-it-down” voters. The Absolute Best Vice-Presidential Options for Trump (Charlie Mahtesian, Politico Magazine)

Biden secured a record fundraising haul on debate day. But that hasn’t stopped the Biden campaign from launching a frantic initiative to keep major donors from backing off. Sunday, the campaign held a conference call with big-money donors, attempting to tamp down panic about the president’s age and mental acuity. Biden Campaign Will Try to Reassure Big Donors (Michael D. Shear and Theodore Schleifer, The New York Times)

Should the U.S. let foreign students stay? Trump made that case a few weeks ago before his campaign walked his comments back. But offering a path to legal residency for international students who graduate from a U.S. university is a policy proposal that was once supported by Republicans and Democrats — and should spark renewed interest. Politicians Need To Get Serious About Retaining Foreign Graduates (Fiona Harrigan, Reason)

Tuesday trivia

Last Tuesday’s question: Who is the oldest U.S. presidential candidate ever to participate in a general election debate?

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The answer is Joe Biden, who made history in 2020 by debating as a 77-year-old. Both Trump (78) and Biden (81) broke that record again on Thursday. Kudos to reader Stevi Ashby for being the first to get it right.

This week’s question:

Attempts to replace Biden on the Democratic ticket could lead to a “brokered convention” — where no candidate reaches a majority vote on the first ballot. When is the last time this happened at the Democratic National Convention?

See you on the trail.

Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.

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