Trump asks Supreme Court to weigh presidential immunity and delay trial

Former President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court on Monday to weigh his appeal of a lower court decision that he is not immune from criminal prosecution, a request that could further delay his 2020 election interference case.

Trump’s formal appeal serves as a pause on what would be a pivotal criminal trial for Trump while the Supreme Court deliberates on his request. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which ruled 3-0 last week against Trump’s presidential immunity claims, set the short deadline for Trump to appeal.

Former President Donald Trump applauds as he departs after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, Saturday, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

While there is no timetable for the high court to act, special counsel Jack Smith has pushed for a trial to take place before the November presidential election, when Trump and President Joe Biden are likely to face off again four years after they came head-to-head in the 2020 election.

The Supreme Court’s options could include rejecting Trump’s emergency appeal, which would allow U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to restart the trial proceedings in Washington’s federal court. The trial was initially slated to begin in early March.

Justices on the high court could also extend that delay while they hear arguments on the immunity dispute. Given the unprecedented nature of the request, some legal experts have suggested the Supreme Court may not want to give the appeals court the last word over the dispute, even if the nine-member bench comes to a similar conclusion on Trump’s presidential immunity argument.

If the Supreme Court does take up the case, the oral argument schedule set by the justices could determine how soon the trial could begin, if they agree with the appeals court’s finding that he isn’t immune.

Trump’s attorneys have alleged that there are partisan motivations at play for Smith’s desire to hold a prompt trial, writing in a December filing that it “reflects the evident desire to schedule President Trump’s potential trial during the summer of 2024 — at the height of the election season.”

Last week, the justices weighed their first Trump-related case since he was indicted four times last year in separate criminal cases. However, that case stemmed from a lawsuit by a group of voters in Colorado seeking to bar him from appearing on the ballot under a Civil War-era “insurrection” clause of the 14th Amendment.

Despite Trump nominating Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch to the bench, the high court has not been particularly favorable to the former president. While it seemed poised to keep him on the ballot in Colorado, a ruling that won’t be known for at least the next couple of weeks, they declined to take up several appeals related to his 2020 election challenges four years ago.

How the justices will handle his presidential immunity appeal is anyone’s guess, though the justices have held that presidents are immune from civil liability for official acts, so the question will be whether Trump can convince them to extend that precedent to criminal prosecution as well.

The D.C. Circuit panel, composed of two judges appointed by Biden and one appointed by a Republican president, firmly rejected Trump’s claim that former presidents can have absolute immunity for actions that fall within their official duties.

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Trump’s case in Washington, D.C., is one of four prosecutions Trump faces as he seeks to regain the White House. His other federal case involves charges brought by Smith in Florida over alleged improper retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, which led to an FBI raid at the West Palm Beach resort home in August 2022.

Trump is also charged in state court in Georgia with attempting to subvert the state’s 2020 election and in New York in connection with hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels toward the end of his 2016 campaign. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all 91 charges across the four cases.

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