DemDaily: Delaying Justice

March 1, 2024

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) agreed on Wednesday to take up the question of whether sweeping presidential powers immune former President Donald Trump from prosecution on criminal charges that he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

It is the second time in weeks that the court addressed a landmark legal case involving Trump, following the February 8 oral arguments on Trump's exclusion from Colorado's primary ballot over his actions surrounding the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Both cases have profound implications for the 2024 presidential election and the scope of the powers of the presidency.

The court's decision to grant certiorari in the immunity case stays a February 6 decision by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit which rejected Trump’s immunity claim, writing, "For the purposes of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution."

In an unsigned order, the Supreme Court stated that their review would be limited to a single question: "Whether and if so to what extent does a former President enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office."

Delaying Justice
Trump was indicted August 1, 2023, by a DC District Court grand jury on charges arising from Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the federal elections interference conspiracy and January 6 attack on the Capitol.

The four criminal counts against Trump -- the first indictment against a US president concerning his actions while in office -- include: 1) Conspiracy to defraud the United States under Title 18 of the United States Code; 2) Obstructing an official proceeding; 3) Conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002; and 4) Conspiracy against rights under the Enforcement Act of 1870.

He was arraigned August 3 and US District Judge Tanya Chutkan set a trial date of March 4, 2024. Chutkan denied a motion from Trump in early December to dismiss the charges based on his immunity defense, and Trump appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

In the interim, on December 11, Smith went to the Supreme Court, urging the justices to fast-track a decision on the immunity question, without waiting further months for the US Court of Appeals to weigh in.

"Delay in the resolution of these charges threatens to frustrate the public interest in a speedy and fair verdict," Smith argued. "One that has unique national importance here as it involves federal criminal charges against a former President" which "strike at the heart of our democracy."

Eleven days later, on December 22, the high court, which has chosen not to treat the case as exceptional, declined Smith's request without a reason for its decision, letting the appeals process continue. On February 8, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit rejected Trump’s immunity claim.

Trump appealed to the Supreme Court, which after a two-week delay announced that it would hear the case. Historically SCOTUS has expedited cases of such consequential constitutional significance. In 2000, in Bush v. Gore, the court issued its decision handing the presidency to George W. Bush the day after the justices heard arguments.

In this case, however, Trump's immunity appeal will not be heard until the last week of oral arguments for the court's term in late April -- with a decision as late as the end of June or early July.

Meanwhile, proceedings in the DOJ conspiracy trial remain frozen. If the high court rules in favor of Trump, then all charges will be dropped against him. If they deny his claim, he and his defense team will have 88 days to prepare for a trial -- which means the trial would be delayed until late September or October.

The decision by the Supreme Court's 6-3 conservative majority to slow-walk the case marks a victory for Trump's efforts to delay the unprecedented criminal case against him -- now quite possibly until after the November presidential election. That determination, and potentially the outcome of the 2024 battle for the White House, appears to be in the hands of the justices, three of whom were appointed by Trump.

DemList will keep you informed.

DemDaily: Supreme Court Weighs Trump Ballot Battle 2/29/24
DemDaily: The 2024 Presidential Calendar. The Update 2/27/24
DemDaily: DemDaily: Red State, Blue State 1/31/24
DemDaily: Three Years Later. The Capitol Insurrection 1/9/24
DemDaily: Disqualified to Run? 9/12/23

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: NBC, The Hill, New York Times, CNN, ScotusBlog, CB

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