Supreme Court agrees to hear Trump immunity case, delaying trial on election interference

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it will decide whether former President Donald Trump can be tried for trying to steal the 2020 election, setting an accelerated schedule to hear the case in April while his criminal trial remains delayed.

The court will hear arguments the week of April 22 on whether a president can be charged criminally for conduct that involved official acts while he was in the White House.

The move is a win for Trump, who is appealing a lower court’s decision that he’s not immune from prosecution. Even if Trump loses that appeal, the Supreme Court may not reach a decision quickly enough for a trial to proceed in time for a verdict before the November election.

“Without Presidential Immunity, a President will not be able to properly function, or make decisions, in the best interest of the United States of America,” Trump said in a statement.

Special Counsel Jack Smith, who had asked for a faster schedule if the justices did want to consider Trump's immunity, had told the court the public interest in a prompt trial is “at its zenith.” Smith's office declined to comment.

Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney and now a law professor at the University of Michigan, said setting oral arguments for late April “seems awfully slow.”

“Case can still be tried before election if they hustle the decision,” she said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Otherwise justice delayed is justice denied.”

Paul Schiff Berman, a law professor at George Washington University, called it “completely unjustifiable” for the court to keep Trump’s trial on hold while they consider his appeal.

“There's no reason that lower court proceedings couldn't continue in the meantime,” he said. “And if the court ultimately rules that Trump is immune, the proceedings could be discontinued at that time.”

Berman said he would not expect a Supreme Court decision until the end of June, “which means that a trial is unlikely to begin until end of summer at the earliest.”

Donald Trump and the Supreme Court

Trump's immunity appeal is just one of the issues the high court is deciding that will affect his future. The justices are also deciding whether an anti-insurrectionist provision of the Constitution can be used by states to kick Trump off the ballot. And they are considering a challenge to how federal prosecutors are going after Jan. 6 rioters in a case that could affect the federal charges against Trump.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the Supreme Court is putting itself on trial.

“It remains to be seen whether the justices will uphold the fundamental American value that no one is above the law – not even a former president,” she said in a statement.

Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has sought to delay four federal and state criminal cases until after the election.

Delay, delay, delay: Here's how Donald Trump is trying to push back his criminals trials

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a caucus night rally in Las Vegas, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) ORG XMIT: NVMT304
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a caucus night rally in Las Vegas, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) ORG XMIT: NVMT304

More trials than Al Capone? Trump dominates the GOP primary field, but his legal battles are intensifying

If voters return Trump to the White House while the trial is still pending, he could ask the Justice Department to dismiss pending federal cases.

Smith had asked the Supreme Court to weigh in early on the immunity issue, which the justices declined to do in December without comment.

After the appeals court ruled against Trump, his lawyers tried to use Smith’s arguments to their benefit. They reminded the Supreme Court that Smith had said the case presents "a fundamental question at the heart of our democracy” that only the Supreme Court can definitively resolve.

Smith told the court this month that if the Supreme Court didn’t want to take up the issue before, there was less of a reason to do so now since the appeals court soundly rejected Trump’s immunity claim.

But if the justices did want to consider the immunity claim, he continued, they should do so quickly to minimize the continued trial delay. Smith had asked that the appeal be argued in March, a month earlier than the court's April schedule.

Trump’s lawyers had argued restarting the federal trial on election interference would sideline Trump from the 2024 campaign, threatening the First Amendment rights of the tens of millions of American voters who are “entitled” to hear Trump’s campaign message.

Timeline How Donald Trump's campaign schedule is headed full speed for a crash with his court dates

Smith pointed out that Trump has been charged with trying to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters by refusing to accept the 2020 election results.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to four federal charges in the case − three for conspiracy and one for obstruction − for falsely claiming election fraud and trying to overturn the legitimate election results.

While former presidents have broad immunity from civil lawsuits for official actions taken while serving in the White House, Trump has attempted to claim sweeping immunity from criminal prosecution.

Trump's lawyer John Sauer, has argued a president would have to be impeached and convicted in a Senate trial before he could be charged with crimes including murdering a political rival, accepting bribes or committing treason.

Without immunity from criminal prosecution, Sauer told the court, the presidency “as we know it will cease to exist” because political rivals could seek to punish a president for contentious policy decisions.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals this month definitively rejected Trump’s argument in a unanimous opinion.

After rejecting Trump’s claim of absolute immunity, the appeals panel said it wasn’t necessary to determine whether the criminal allegations covered “official acts.” But an appeals panel already found campaign activity wasn't "official."

When Capitol Police officers sued Trump for allegedly inciting the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, another appeals panel ruled that “actions constituting re-election campaign activity” are not “official” and can be the basis for a lawsuit.

The trial on the special counsel's charges against Trump was originally scheduled for March. The appeals panel kept it on hold while Trump asked the Supreme Court to weigh in.

He’s already facing a March trial in New York on charges he falsified business records to cover up payments to women.

Trials are also possible on election interferences charges in Georgia and on whether Trump mishandled of classified documents after leaving the White House.

`So much winning'? Donald Trump remade the Supreme Court. It hasn't always made him a winner

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Supreme Court will consider presidential immunity in April