Special counsel Jack Smith petitioned the Supreme Court on Monday to decide whether former President Donald Trump is immune from criminal prosecution related to allegations that he obstructed the 2020 election.
Trump’s lawyers have sought to dismiss the charges against him on grounds that he is protected by presidential immunity because the alleged crimes happened when he was still president. His lawyers also argue that prosecuting Trump violates double jeopardy because the Senate acquitted him for the same alleged actions in 2021.
District Judge Tanya Chutkan, however, disagreed with those arguments and ruled on Dec. 1 that Trump is not immune from prosecution.
In his petition, Smith asked the Supreme Court to expedite a review of Chutkan’s ruling — thereby circumventing the D.C. Appeals Court — because Trump’s appeal of Chutkan’s ruling, which is his legal right, delays the trial process.
“The district court presiding over this case rejected respondent’s constitutional arguments and has scheduled trial for March 4, 2024,” prosecutors wrote.
“Respondent’s notice of appeal, however, suspends trial proceedings, and respondent has moved for a stay of all proceedings in the district court while his appeal is pending,” they added. “It is of paramount public importance that respondent’s claims of immunity be resolved as expeditiously as possible— and, if respondent is not immune, that he receive a fair and speedy trial on these charges.”
Prosecutors worry that without Supreme Court intervention, “the pace of review may not result in a final decision for many months,” thus delaying the trial indefinitely.
Throughout the petition, prosecutors repeatedly cite the “public” interest as the reason the Supreme Court must act quickly. But they don’t necessarily explain what the public’s interest is in ensuring the trial begins on March 4. Are prosecutors really concerned with providing Trump with a speedy trial? The case, after all, is already moving at lightning speed; Trump was indicted in August, which means only seven months would elapse between the indictment and the beginning of the trial.
The trial date was already controversial because it was set in the middle of the primary season — and one day before Super Tuesday — leading to accusations that prosecutors are seeking to damage Trump’s presidential prospects.
“This is a smart move on [Smith’s] part in order to try and maintain the March 4 trial date,” former assistant U.S. attorney Andrew Weissmann said.
Constitutional law scholar Jonathan Turley, however, said, “The Supreme Court may not view a trial of Trump during the campaign to be as motivating or urgent as does Smith.”
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