Latin for “in fact, indeed, actually.” The phrase de facto is used to refer to an officer, a government, a past action, or a state of affairs that must be accepted for all practical purposes, but is illegal or illegitimate. It is opposite of de jure, which means rightful, legitimate, just, or constitutional.
See, e.g., Wheatley v. Consolidated Lumber Co., 167 Cal. 441, 447-48 (1914): “There cannot be a de facto officer unless there be a de jure office to be filled. There cannot be two de facto incumbents of a single office, and where two are exercising or attempting to exercise the functions of a single office, that one alone will be recognized who has the legal right. In governmental affairs to constitute a de facto officer there must be a legal government. A de facto officer of an illegal or unlawful government is an anomaly that can only exist in absurdity.” (Citations omitted.)
See, e.g., MacLeod v. United States , 229 U.S. 416, 428-29 (1913): “But there is another description of government, called also by publicists a government de facto, but which might, perhaps, be more aptly denominated a government of paramount force. Its distinguishing characteristics are (1) that its existence is maintained by active military power within territories, and against the rightful authority of an established and lawful government; and (2) that while it exists it must necessarily be obeyed in civil matters by private citizens who, by acts of obedience rendered in submission to such force, do not become responsible, as wrongdoers, for those acts, though not warranted by the laws of the rightful governments. Actual governments of this sort are established over districts differing greatly in extent and conditions. They are usually administered directly by military authority, but they may be administered, also, by civil authority, supported more or less directly by military force.”