US Supreme Court will hear Donald Trump presidential immunity appeal


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The US Supreme Court has agreed to take up an appeal over whether Donald Trump is immune from criminal prosecution for acts committed in office, putting another potentially blockbuster case involving the former president on the high court’s docket ahead of the 2024 election.

The order on Wednesday will further delay a trial in a criminal case filed by the Department of Justice accusing Trump of seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election. It will also give the high court — three of whose members were appointed by the former president — the chance to issue a landmark ruling on a question that could have major consequences for the upcoming election, as well as the presidency more broadly.

The Supreme Court set oral arguments in the matter for the week of April 22, with a decision expected in the case by the end of its term, which usually concludes in late June.

The appeal stems from a unanimous ruling handed down earlier this month by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that barred Trump from using presidential immunity as a shield against the DoJ indictment.

Lawyers for Trump subsequently asked the Supreme Court to put this order on hold while he appealed against the decision. They argued that a “claim that presidents have absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for their official acts presents a novel, complex, and momentous question that warrants careful consideration on appeal”.

The Supreme Court said the appellate court’s order would remain on hold until it resolves the issue. The federal elections trial was originally set to begin on March 4 but has been postponed.

Had the court not taken the case, the lower appeals court’s ruling would have remained in place and proceedings in the trial court could have resumed imminently. It is unclear now whether Trump will face trial in the case before the election in November, when he is likely to face Joe Biden in a rematch of 2020.

Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School, said that even if the high court decides the case speedily, “a determination that the prosecution can proceed will leave the district court hard-pressed to schedule a trial before the general election”.

“Arguments that Trump and the people have a strong First Amendment interest in presenting his views to the electorate are substantial, and may well counsel against requiring him to sit in the courtroom instead of campaigning,” he added.

Jack Smith, the DoJ special counsel overseeing federal probes targeting Trump, had warned the Supreme Court that a “delay in the resolution of [the election] charges threatens to frustrate the public interest in a speedy and fair verdict”.

The DoJ declined to comment. Trump’s campaign said in a statement that a president “has to be free to determine what is right for our country without undue pressure. If there is no immunity, the presidency, as we know it, will ‘no longer exist’.”

Trump has recently suffered a series of setbacks in court, including a penalty of more than $450mn, including interest, in a civil lawsuit over “blatant” fraud committed by his real estate empire. An appeals court judge in New York on Wednesday declined to pause enforcement of that judgment while Trump appeals.

He faces a total of 91 criminal charges across four separate cases. The DoJ and the state of Georgia have charged Trump with meddling in the 2020 election. A separate federal indictment accused him of mishandling sensitive government documents.

The first case to reach trial will be one brought by Alvin Bragg, Manhattan district attorney, who alleged that Trump made “hush money” payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Proceedings are set to start on March 25.

The Supreme Court had previously refused Smith’s request to bypass the DC Circuit and hear the presidential immunity matter immediately last year.

The high court has previously ruled on presidential immunity against civil claims, but it has yet to address the issue in relation to criminal charges.

The Supreme Court has also taken up another politically sensitive case involving Trump. It is poised to decide whether he can be barred from Colorado’s primary ballot in the presidential election, after a ruling from that state’s high court determined he was ineligible to hold office. It heard oral arguments in the case earlier this month.

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