Sunday, February 25, 2024

Trump’s Claim of Immunity from Jan. 6 Charges Faces Supreme Court Test

HomeTop NewsTrump's Claim of Immunity from Jan. 6 Charges Faces Supreme Court Test

Special counsel Jack Smith has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of whether former President Donald Trump can claim immunity from the federal charges he faces over efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Smith filed an urgent request on Monday asking the high court to immediately resolve the immunity question in order to prevent any delay in the March 4 trial date that has been set in the case. Trump has claimed he has “absolute immunity” from prosecution over his actions while serving as president.

Respondent’s appeal of the ruling rejecting his immunity and related claims, however, suspends the trial of the charges against him, scheduled to begin on March 4, 2024,” Smith wrote. It is of imperative public importance that respondent’s claims of immunity be resolved by this Court and that respondent’s trial proceed as promptly as possible if his claim of immunity is rejected.

The Stakes

The special counsel’s request puts the Supreme Court at the center of the legal fight over Trump’s efforts to defeat the case against him. How the justices rule could determine whether the unprecedented prosecution of a former president can move forward on the aggressive timeline that prosecutors have set.

A ruling in Trump’s favor would likely kill the case entirely based on immunity grounds. But a ruling against his immunity claims would allow the March trial date to stand and push the prosecution ahead at full speed.

Smith was appointed special counsel in November to oversee the Justice Department’s investigations related to the 2020 election and January 6th attack on the Capitol. He inherited two ongoing cases against Trump that had been started under Attorney General Merrick Garland.

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The Charges

In August, Trump was charged with four criminal counts for undertaking a “criminal scheme” to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 presidential election.

The indictment alleges Trump enlisted a team of lawyers and advisors to promote false fraud claims, pressure state officials to change election results, corrupt the Department of Justice to aid his effort, improperly enlist then-Vice President Mike Pence to block certification of electoral votes, and inflame his supporters about a “stolen election” prior to the January 6th Capitol attack.

Trump has vigorously denied all allegations of criminal wrongdoing regarding the election and January 6th. His legal team has also worked aggressively to have the case dismissed prior to trial.

The Immunity Fight

Trump’s central argument has been that the Constitution provides sitting presidents absolute protection from criminal prosecution over official acts taken while in office.

His legal team first filed a motion to dismiss on immunity grounds in October. Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the case in Washington D.C. district court, rejected Trump’s motion in November – setting up an appeal to higher courts.

Chutkan ruled that accepting Trump’s expansive view of presidential immunity would amount to placing presidents “above the law.” She also determined immunity did not apply in this case because Trump is being prosecuted for private actions he took to overturn an election after he was voted out of office.

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Trump immediately appealed Chutkan’s ruling to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal remains pending, but allowed Trump to also request that all district court proceedings be stayed until higher courts rule on the immunity question.

Smith argued over the weekend that Trump is not entitled to a stay, saying his immunity claims have already been rejected by one judge and face long odds on appeal. Granting a stay now would only serve to delay and disrupt the March 4th trial date, Smith claimed.

Why Supreme Court Action is Needed Now

In Monday’s Supreme Court filing, Smith contends waiting months or longer for normal appeals to play out threatens to indefinitely postponed Trump’s prosecution.

Given the “great public interest” in resolving Trump’s alleged crimes against democracy, Smith says Trump’s immunity appeal must leapfrog straight to the Supreme Court under special procedures that allow the justices to decide crucial constitutional questions on an emergency basis.

Smith points out the court has previously invoked such emergency proceedings to promptly settle issues like the constitutionality of political committee restrictions, state ballot rules, and federal vaccine policies.

Settling this immunity issue immediately would either conclusively kill the case on constitutional grounds – or allow the unprecedented prosecution of a former president to move ahead at full tilt.

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Either way, Smith says a quick answer from the Supreme Court is imperative. Allowing uncertainty to linger over Trump’s claims risks undermining public faith in the workings of justice.

What Happens Next

It is now up to the Supreme Court to decide whether to intervene or allow Trump’s immunity appeal to proceed through normal court channels first.

The justices could decline Smith’s request and defer ruling on immunity claims until lower courts have fully vetted all the legal issues. Or they could agree to step in now and fast-track a definitive ruling.

If the court sides with Smith, oral arguments on Trump’s immunity could happen as early as April with a decision by June. That could still allow the March criminal trial to move ahead as planned.

But the Supreme Court delays acting until its next term starting in October, Trump might well succeed in postponing his day of legal reckoning past 2024.

Conclusion

Special counsel Smith’s urgent plea for Supreme Court intervention aims to prevent Trump from evading prosecution through endless appeals. How the court handles this request will significantly shape the historical accountability, or lack thereof, for Trump’s unprecedented post-election machinations.

Either Trump’s immunity will shield him from facing these charges of subverting democracy. Or the case will clear this immunity hurdle and proceed toward an unprecedented trial of a former president – with the Supreme Court holding the key to which momentous outcome transpires next.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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