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Supreme Court to decide Trump’s criminal immunity argument

Justices schedule April arguments in case that could determine whether the former president faces trial in Washington before the election

Former President Donald Trump makes a speech as he attends the 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland last week.
Former President Donald Trump makes a speech as he attends the 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland last week. (Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court will decide whether former President Donald Trump is right that the presidency gave him immunity to federal charges in Washington tied to his effort to overthrow the 2020 election.

The unsigned, brief one-page order Wednesday sets up blockbuster oral arguments in the case for April, and delays prosecutor efforts to hold a trial in Washington before the 2024 election.

What the Supreme Court decides — and when — could determine whether Trump faces trial before the 2024 election.

Trump had argued for more time to fight the charges after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled earlier this month that the presidency did not grant him broad immunity from federal charges.

On Wednesday, the justices said they would decide a single issue in the case: “Whether and if so to what extent does a former President enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.”

Prosecutors, led by special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith, had asked the court to act quickly in a court filing earlier this month, saying there was a “national interest” in a prompt trial. Smith had pushed for the justices, if they were going to hear arguments, to do so in March.

Smith also told the justices that the district court could start a trial about three months or less after the Supreme Court decides what to do with Trump’s appeal on the immunity issue.

“A President’s alleged criminal scheme to overturn an election and thwart the peaceful transfer of power to his successor should be the last place to recognize a novel form of absolute immunity from federal criminal law,” Smith wrote.

District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia originally scheduled the trial to start March 4, but postponed it last month after Trump’s appeal on the immunity issue effectively put the case on hold.

Prosecutors unveiled the indictment last year, alleging Trump spearheaded a wide-ranging effort to overturn his loss in the 2020 election. Trump allegedly tried to stop vote counting in several states, organized several slates of false electors and ultimately encouraged then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject Electoral College votes of states Trump lost.

Trump argued throughout the case that his status as president at the time and later acquittal at a February 2021 impeachment trial should immunize him from federal charges. He had asked the Supreme Court to stall on an “unprecedented and unacceptable departure” from the normal appeals process.

In the unanimous decision issued earlier this month, the three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit found that Trump had no immunity from federal charges as former president.

“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” the panel wrote.

Trump then filed an emergency request to the Supreme Court, asking for extra time to appeal for the full D.C. Circuit to hear the case and then later the justices.

Trump has sought, unsuccessfully so far, to delay the multiple criminal cases against him until after the 2024 contest.

The former president is scheduled to face at least one criminal trial before the election, after a New York judge set a March 25 trial on state charges alleging Trump hid hush payments during his 2016 presidential campaign.

In Florida, prosecutors led by Smith have pushed for a May trial on charges Trump illegally kept classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago club after his presidency and attempted to hide them from investigators.

Prosecutors handling a Georgia state case against Trump tied to the 2020 election have pushed for an August trial.

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