Supreme Court won’t yet rule on presidential immunity question in Trump case

By: and - December 23, 2023 8:01 am
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Sept. 8, 2023, at The Monument in Rapid City. (Seth Tupper/South Dakota Searchlight)

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Sept. 8, 2023, at The Monument in Rapid City. (Seth Tupper/South Dakota Searchlight)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to quickly decide if former President Donald Trump holds immunity from federal prosecution in the case linked to his actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith had asked the justices to determine if “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.”

The docket entry for the case showed a new entry Friday, announcing that Smith’s petition for the court to quickly hear the case had been denied.

The justices didn’t include any comments for why they declined to take up the case before the D.C. Circuit Court does. The lack of explanation is typical when the Supreme Court grants or denies a so-called writ of certiorari.

Trump’s legal team noted in a 44-page brief to the Supreme Court filed Wednesday that “the D.C. Circuit has already granted highly expedited review of President Trump’s appeal over President Trump’s opposition, with briefing to be concluded by January 2, 2024, and oral argument scheduled for January 9, 2024.”

“The Special Counsel urges this Court to bypass those ordinary procedures, including the longstanding preference for prior consideration by at least one court of appeals, and rush to decide the issues with reckless abandon,” Trump’s legal team wrote. “The Court should decline that invitation at this time, for several reasons.”

Trump lawyers ‘incorrect,’ Smith says

Smith disagreed with that assessment, writing in a 14-page brief filed with the Supreme Court on Thursday that the Trump legal team’s belief the justices should wait to take up the issue of his immunity from prosecution was “incorrect.”

Smith noted the U.S. District Court handling the Jan. 6 case has set a March 4 trial date.

“The public interest in a prompt resolution of this case favors an immediate, definitive decision by this Court,” Smith wrote. “The charges here are of the utmost gravity.”

This federal case against Trump, Smith wrote, marks the first time in American history that criminal charges have been filed “against a former President based on his actions while in office.”

“And not just any actions: alleged acts to perpetuate himself in power by frustrating the constitutionally prescribed process for certifying the lawful winner of an election,” Smith continued. “The Nation has a compelling interest in a decision on respondent’s claim of immunity from these charges — and if they are to be tried, a resolution by conviction or acquittal, without undue delay.”

The Supreme Court appeared to disagree with Smith’s argument on Friday when it denied his request to determine if Trump or any other president holds immunity for acts committed while in office.

Timeline of filings

Smith in early December asked the justices to expedite Trump’s claims of presidential immunity in the 2020 election interference case.

Trump’s legal team had filed the motion to dismiss the case in early October, but U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan denied it on Dec. 1.

Trump’s team appealed the decision Dec. 7, requesting the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to take the case and pause proceedings.

Trump was indicted by a federal grand jury in August on four charges related to his alleged role in knowingly spreading false statements and engaging in fake elector schemes to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

Trump is also scheduled to begin several other court proceedings, including a late March trial in New York state for charges related to alleged hush money payments to an adult film star.

In addition, the former president also faces a criminal trial starting in May in Florida for allegedly removing classified material from the White House and improperly storing them at his Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate.

A trial date has not yet been set for racketeering and organized crime charges he faces in Georgia related to the 2020 presidential election results.

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Ashley Murray
Ashley Murray

Ashley Murray covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include domestic policy and appropriations.

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

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