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Supreme Court Asked to Decide if Trump Is Immune From Prosecution 


FILE - Security officers stand outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. (Photo by Diaa Bekheet)
FILE - Security officers stand outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. (Photo by Diaa Bekheet)

U.S. special counsel Jack Smith asked the Supreme Court on Monday to quickly consider whether former President Donald Trump has any immunity from charges accusing him of illegally conspiring to upend his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.

In an effort to keep Trump’s scheduled March 4 trial date in Washington on track, Smith asked the country’s highest court to uphold U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s ruling that the case can go forward, and bypass Trump’s appeal of her ruling to the federal appellate court in Washington, a process that could take months.

“The United States recognizes that this is an extraordinary request,” Smith told the Supreme Court. “This is an extraordinary case.”

Hours later, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments from both sides about whether they should act quickly to decide whether Trump has immunity from being charged criminally. Trump's lawyers were told to file briefs on the issue by December 20.

By asking the Supreme Court for direct consideration of whether Trump is immune from prosecution for actions he took while still in office in the waning days of his presidency in late 2020 and early 2021, Smith is trying to avert having the trial delayed until after next November’s presidential election.

Trump is the overwhelming favorite for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination even as he faces an unprecedented four criminal indictments accusing him of 91 offenses, all of which he has denied.

If he were to win the White House again and any federal trials had yet to occur, he could direct his attorney general to drop two cases brought by Smith — the election conspiracy case and another in the Southern state of Florida set for May accusing him of mishandling classified documents as he left office.

Trump appointed three of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices during his four years in office. But the former president does not have a winning track record at the high court.

FILE - U.S. Supreme Court justices pose for their group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington, Oct. 7, 2022.
FILE - U.S. Supreme Court justices pose for their group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington, Oct. 7, 2022.

The justices rejected requests from Trump and his supporters to get involved in challenges to the 2020 election results. They also ruled against his claims that the presidency protected him from investigation and turned back his efforts to block release of his financial records.

In asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether Trump is immune from prosecution, prosecutors wrote, "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.”

The prosecutors emphasized the urgency of the matter to the Supreme Court, saying, "It is of imperative public importance that [Trump’s] claims of immunity be resolved by this court and that [his] trial proceed as promptly as possible if his claim of immunity is rejected."

The prosecutors told the high court that Trump’s immunity claims “are profoundly mistaken, as the district court held. But only this court can definitively resolve them.”

Chutkan, the trial judge in the case, rejected arguments by Trump's attorneys that he was immune from federal prosecution. In her order, she wrote that the office of the president "does not confer a lifelong 'get-out-of-jail-free' pass."

"Former presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability," Chutkan wrote. "Defendant may be subject to federal investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction and punishment for any criminal acts undertaken while in office."

Trump, a Republican, is accused in a four-count indictment in Washington of conspiring to upend the results of the 2020 election he lost to Biden, a Democrat who is running for reelection next year.

The indictment alleged that Trump sought “to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the federal government function by which those results are collected, counted and certified.”

On January 6, 2021, as Congress met to officially certify the results of the Electoral College showing Biden had won, Trump urged supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol and “fight like hell” to disrupt the proceeding. In the ensuing mayhem, about 2,000 Trump supporters stormed into the Capitol, clashed with police and rampaged through some congressional offices.

More than 1,100 protesters were arrested and more than 600 have been convicted of an array of offenses.

After hours of delay, Congress ratified Biden’s victory in the early hours of January 7, and he became the country’s president on January 20, 2021.