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Trump urges justices to delay immunity ruling on 2020 charges

Attorneys argue Supreme Court should wait for appellate decision

Jack Smith, special counsel investigating former President Donald Trump, wants the Supreme Court to decide on Trump's immunity defense.
Jack Smith, special counsel investigating former President Donald Trump, wants the Supreme Court to decide on Trump's immunity defense. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump told the Supreme Court Wednesday there’s no rush to decide his claims of presidential immunity from charges connected to Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election — and that deciding now could interfere with the 2024 contest.

Trump has sought to delay a trial currently scheduled for March on charges connected to his effort to overturn his loss in the 2020 election, arguing that he is immune to the charges because he was president at the time and was acquitted by the Senate in an impeachment trial after he left office. In court papers filed with the justices Wednesday, Trump argued that the effort by Special Counsel John L. “Jack” Smith “cannot avoid the appearance of partisanship” in the leadup to the 2024 election.

Trump’s attorneys have criticized the “hasty analysis” of the issues involved in the case by District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who turned down Trump’s effort to jettison the case.

Earlier this month, Smith asked the high court to step in after Trump appealed Chutkan’s ruling. His appeal effectively put the case on hold. Smith argued that Trump’s effort to overturn the election subverted democracy and he shouldn’t be able to use court process to avoid a trial.

“Nothing could be more vital to our democracy than that a President who abuses the electoral system to remain in office is held accountable for criminal conduct,” Smith wrote.

Smith argued the justices should take up the issue immediately and decide it, to allow for a trial to proceed next year.

Trump’s attorneys pushed back on that in Wednesday’s filing, saying that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has already set an aggressive schedule for hearing the immunity case, which includes oral arguments next month. The justices should wait until after the appellate court weighs in, the brief filed Wednesday said.

“The Special Counsel urges the Court to jettison venerable principles of prudence, leapfrog the ordinary process of appellate review, and rush headlong to decide one of the most novel, complex, and momentous legal issues in American history” the brief said. “In doing so, the Special Counsel seeks to embroil this Court in a partisan rush to judgment on some of the most historic and sensitive questions that the Court may ever decide.”

The presidential immunity argument has been one of Trump’s main defenses since prosecutors unveiled the four-count indictment in August. The charges allege Trump led a broad push to overturn his loss in the 2020 election, including efforts to stop vote counting, putting forth false slates of presidential electors and encouraging then-Vice President Mike Pence to throw out the electoral college votes of states Trump lost.

Trump made the presidential immunity argument as one of numerous motions to dismiss the case in October. He argued that “communicating his concerns” about possible fraud in the election fell within his duties as president — and he could not be tried for a crime that the Senate acquitted him of in a February 2021 impeachment trial.

Chutkan rejected those arguments earlier this month. She wrote that the president isn’t above the law and that he could face federal charges for conduct that occurred during his term.

“Whatever immunities a sitting president may enjoy, the United States has only one chief executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass,” Chutkan wrote.

Smith sought to outmaneuver Trump’s appeal by going straight to the Supreme Court. He asked the high court to weigh in, effectively putting them in a position to decide whether Trump should face trial as scheduled in March. 

The justices don’t have to act on the request, but if they don’t, the case would remain effectively delayed until Trump’s appeal is resolved. 

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