Special Counsel Asks US Supreme Court to Rule on Trump’s Claim of Immunity

Special Counsel Asks US Supreme Court to Rule on Trump’s Claim of Immunity – Prosecutors from the special counsel urged the US Supreme Court to promptly decide whether Donald Trump can face federal criminal charges for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. This comes as an effort to sidestep Trump’s recent appeal to the DC circuit, following the rejection by a federal judge who dismissed the idea of presidential immunity for his actions.

The Supreme Court petition indicates prosecutors’ apprehensions about potential delays in the March 2024 trial date if they were to follow the usual appeals process, involving brief submissions, scheduling oral arguments, and awaiting a decision while the case remains in suspension. Trump openly acknowledges that his primary legal strategy revolves around prolonging the trial as much as possible. 

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If the trial were postponed until after the upcoming presidential election, and Trump emerged victorious, he could potentially instruct his attorney general to dismiss the charges. “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 constitutionally protected from federal prosecution when he has been impeached but not convicted,” the petition said.

Seeking certiorari from the Supreme Court before the appeals court renders judgment is an uncommon request, usually reserved for national crises, as seen in the case of Richard Nixon’s refusal to provide White House tapes to a special prosecutor. By referencing US v Nixon and requesting expedited treatment, prosecutors are essentially asserting to the Supreme Court that they view the Trump case as being of comparable magnitude and constitutional significance.

“The United States recognizes that this is an extraordinary request,” the filing said. “This is an extraordinary case.” While the Supreme Court has previously asserted broad immunity for presidents in civil lawsuits, it has not explicitly addressed the question of whether presidents can be criminally charged for alleged offenses during their term. The decision to take up the case remains uncertain.

But recent trends suggest an increased willingness to grant certiorari before appeals court judgments, especially in cases involving presidential powers, as highlighted by research from supreme court experts Steve Vladeck and David Merlinsky. The filing by prosecutors, including special counsel Jack Smith, deputies JP Cooley and James Pearce, and seasoned supreme court litigator Michael Dreeben, who previously served as a top appellate litigator for special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation, underscores the significance of the matter.

If the case proceeds to trial in Washington post-election, voters may lack a full understanding of the evidence regarding Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election before deciding whether to grant him a second term in the White House. “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 petition said. “Only this court can definitively resolve them.”

In the past week, the overseeing US district judge, Tanya Chutkan, dismissed Trump’s assertion of absolute immunity based on an expansive interpretation of executive power. She argued that the former president cannot evade accountability for actions taken during his tenure in office. “Defendant’s four-year service as commander in chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens,” Chutkan wrote in her 48-page opinion.

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Following the swift rejection of his motion to dismiss, Trump promptly appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Notably, he also requested Judge Chutkan to halt all proceedings in the 2020 election subversion case until the matter was resolved. In the motions to dismiss, Trump’s legal team argued that all efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss outlined in the indictment were performed in his presidential capacity, thus warranting protection. 

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These actions ranged from pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to impede congressional certification to orchestrating fake slates of electors. Central to the Trump legal team’s submission was the remarkable claim that Trump was entitled to absolute presidential immunity, and this immunity applied regardless of whether Trump intended to engage in the described conduct in the indictment.

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