Supreme Court won't hear case on defending Trump's immunity for now


The Supreme Court on Friday declined to decide for now whether former President Donald J. Trump is immune from prosecution on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.

The decision to delay consideration of a central issue in the case was a major practical victory for Trump, whose lawyers have consistently tried to delay criminal cases against him across the country.

The case will now move forward in an appeals court, which has fast-tracked it, and will most likely return to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks or months.

The order issued Friday was a ruling and gave no reasons, which is typical when judges deny review. There were no notable dissents.

Jack Smith, the special prosecutor prosecuting Trump, had asked the judges to act extraordinarily quickly, bypassing the appeals court.

“This case presents a fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: whether a former president has absolutely immunity from federal prosecution for crimes committed while in office or whether he is constitutionally protected from federal prosecution when he has been charged but not convicted before for the criminal process to begin. ” Mr. Smith wrote.

A quick decision by the justices was essential, Smith wrote, because Trump's appeal of a trial judge's ruling rejecting his claim of immunity suspended the criminal trial. The proceedings are scheduled to begin March 4 in U.S. District Court in Washington, although Friday's events made a postponement more likely.

Any significant delay could plunge the trial into the heart of the 2024 campaign season or delay it beyond the election, when Trump could order the charges dropped if he wins the presidency.

“The United States recognizes that this is an extraordinary request,” Smith wrote of his request to bypass review at the appeals court. “This is an extraordinary case.”

The appeals court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has put the case on an expedited calendar, ordering an expedited briefing and scheduling arguments for Jan. 9.

The case will be heard by a three-member panel consisting of Judge Karen L. Henderson, appointed by President George HW Bush, and Judges Florence Y. Pan and J. Michelle Childs, both appointed by President Biden.

The panel will likely issue a decision soon. If Trump loses, he could ask the full appeals court to rehear the case. In the end, the losing side will most likely return to the Supreme Court.

Trial Judge Tanya S. Chutkan rejected Trump's sweeping claims that he had “absolute immunity” from the election interference charge because it was based on actions he took while in office. She has since stayed proceedings in the case while an appeal moves forward.

Mr. Smith urged the judges to act quickly: “The public importance of the issues, the imminence of the scheduled trial date, and the need for prompt and final resolution by counsel of defendant's immunity claims in favor of expedited review by this court at this time. “

Trump's lawyers took the opposite view, asking the justices to follow standard procedure and let the appeals court consider the matter first.

Importance does not automatically require speed,” Mr. Trump’s report said. “If anything, the opposite usually happens. Novel, complex, sensitive and historical issues, such as the existence of presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts, demand more careful deliberation, not less.”

Smith called that approach misguided.

“The public interest in a prompt resolution of this case favors an immediate and final decision by this court,” he wrote. “The charges here are of the utmost seriousness. “This case involves, for the first time in our nation’s history, criminal charges against a former president based on his actions while he was in office.”

“And not just any action: alleged acts to perpetuate themselves in power by frustrating the constitutionally prescribed process to certify the legitimate winner of an election,” Smith added.

Trump's lawyers responded that the case and the desire to resolve it quickly were motivated by political considerations.

“It confuses the 'public interest' with the overt partisan interest in ensuring that President Trump is subjected to a month-long criminal trial at the height of a presidential campaign in which he is the leading candidate and the only serious opponent of the current administration.” the writing said.

The two sides are based on precedents that point in opposite directions, and both involve President Richard M. Nixon.

In 1974, in United States v. Nixon, the court ruled that Nixon, then still in office, had to comply with a subpoena seeking tapes of his Oval Office conversations, rejecting his claims of executive privilege.

“Neither the doctrine of the separation of powers, nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can support an absolute and unconditional presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process in all circumstances,” the president of the Court wrote. Supreme, Warren E. Burger.

Eight years later, in Nixon v. Fitzgerald, the court voted 5 to 4 in favor of Nixon in a civil case brought by an Air Force analyst who said he was fired in 1970 in retaliation for his criticism of cost overruns. When the court acted, Nixon had been out of office for several years.

“In view of the special nature of the office and the constitutional functions of the president,” Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote for the majority, “we believe it is appropriate to recognize absolute presidential immunity from liability for damages for acts within the 'outer perimeter' of the presidency.” his official responsibility.”

The Supreme Court will soon face a different issue that arises after the 2020 election. On Tuesday, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump is ineligible to be on the primary ballot in that state under a provision of the Constitution that prohibits officials who have participated in the insurrection take office. Trump has said he will appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Alan Feuer contributed reports.

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