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Supreme Court declines to fast-track Trump immunity decision

Special counsel Jack Smith hoped that the process would be expedited in order for the former president’s election subversion case to begin in March 2024

El edificio del Tribunal Supremo, el pasado 20 de diciembre.
The Supreme Court building, on December 20.KEVIN LAMARQUE (REUTERS)
Iker Seisdedos

Special counsel Jack Smith had begged the U.S. Supreme Court justices to fast-track a decision on whether former president Donald Trump is immune from prosecution for his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and for his involvement in the events leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol while he was still president. This Friday, the high court has refused to do so, as Trump’s lawyers wanted (and requested) earlier this week. The decision can be interpreted as a victory for the Republican’s defense.

In an unusual maneuver, Smith hoped that the process would bypass a federal appeals court and go directly to the Supreme Court in order to meet the deadline that had been established for his criminal trial in Washington to begin. After Friday’s news, it is highly unlikely that the criminal trial will begin on March 4, 2024, as planned. The case will now make its way through an appeals court and most likely return to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

“This case presents a fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: whether a former president is absolutely immune from federal prosecution for crimes committed while in office or is constitutionally protected from federal prosecution when he has been impeached but not convicted before the criminal proceedings begin,” special counsel Smith wrote. “The United States recognizes that this is an extraordinary request. This is an extraordinary case,” he added in his petition, which extended over 81 pages.

Previously, Trump had unsuccessfully defended this “absolute immunity” before the federal judge presiding over his case in Washington, Tanya S. Chutkan, who flatly refused to dismiss the charges against the former president. “The Constitution’s text, structure, and history do not support that contention,” Chutkan wrote in her opinion. “No court — or any other branch of government — has ever accepted it. And this court will not so hold. 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,” she wrote in a lengthy opinion.

When his lawyers went to the Supreme Court to convince its nine justices — six conservatives and three progressives, three of whom were appointed during the Republican tycoon’s time in the White House — they accused Smith of confusing the public interest with the “partisan interest in ensuring that President Trump will be subjected to a months-long criminal trial at the height of a presidential campaign where he is the leading candidate and the only serious opponent of the current administration [Biden].”

The March 4 trial start date was especially symbolic in a year that will see Trump move from rally to courtroom. The following day, May 5, is Super Tuesday, when the largest number of delegates, which candidates win state-by-state, are up for grabs of any single day in the primary cycle. Trump, despite the four indictments he faces, is comfortably leading in all polls.

There is another trial scheduled for March, stemming from his first indictment, in New York, over hush-money payments made to porn actress Stormy Daniels, during his 2016 presidential campaign, to cover up an alleged extramarital affair. That trial is scheduled to begin on March 25, 2024, in a New York State court.

After that, Trump would face another trial in Florida beginning May 20, 2024, for federal crimes in connection with the handling of classified documents that he illegally took to Mar-a-Lago after his departure from the White House. Though the judge for the Southern District of Florida has scheduled a five-week trial beginning in late May, it is also likely that it will be delayed. Then, finally, a trial date is pending in Georgia for efforts made by Trump and several other to overturn the results of the 2020 election in that state.

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