Photo: Canadian Press
Former Republican President Donald Trump speaks at a Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Former President Donald Trump is asking the Supreme Court to extend a delay in his election interference trial, saying he is immune from prosecution over charges he engineered to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
His lawyers filed an emergency appeal in court on Monday, just four days after the justices heard Trump's separate appeal to remain on the presidential ballot despite attempts to expel him because of his efforts following his defeat in the 2020 elections.
“Without immunity from criminal prosecution, the Presidency as we know it will cease to exist,” Trump’s lawyers wrote, repeating arguments that have so far failed in federal courts.
The proceedings keep what would be a historic criminal trial of a former president on hold while the nation's highest court decides what to do. It met the deadline to ask the judges to intervene that the federal appeals court in Washington set when it rejected Trump's immunity claims and ruled the trial could proceed.
The Supreme Court's decision on what to do, and how quickly it acts, could determine whether the Republican candidate in the presidential primaries will be tried in the case before November.
There is no timeline for the court's action, but special prosecutor Jack Smith's team pushed hard for the trial to take place this year. Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly tried to delay the case. If Trump were to defeat President Joe Biden, he could potentially try to use his position as head of the executive branch to order a new attorney general to dismiss the federal cases he faces or even seek a pardon for himself.
The Supreme Court's options include rejecting the emergency appeal, which would allow U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to restart trial proceedings in Washington federal court. The trial was initially scheduled to begin in early March.
The court could also extend the delay while it hears arguments on the immunity issue. In that case, whatever timetable the justices might set could determine when a trial could begin, if in fact they agree with lower courts' rulings that Trump is not immune from prosecution.
In December, Smith and his team urged the justices to address and decide the immunity issue even before the appeals court ruling. “It is of imperative public importance that the Defendant's immunity claim be resolved by this Court and that the Defendant's trial proceed. as quickly as possible if your immunity request is rejected,” prosecutors wrote in December.
Trump's legal team attributed partisan motives to the prosecution's push for an immediate trial, writing in December that it “reflects the evident desire to schedule President Trump's potential trial during the summer of 2024 – at the height of the election season.”
It now falls to a court on which three justices, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were appointed by Trump when he was president. They moved the court to the right in important decisions that nullified the right to abortion, expanded gun rights and ended affirmative action in college admissions.
But the Supreme Court has not been especially friendly to Trump on legal issues directly related to the former president. The court refused to accept several appeals filed by Trump and his allies related to the 2020 elections. It also refused to block tax files and other documents from being turned over to congressional committees and prosecutors in New York.
Last week, however, the justices appeared likely to put an end to efforts to block Trump from the 2024 election. A ruling in that case could come at any time.
The Supreme Court has previously held that presidents are immune from civil liability for official acts, and Trump's lawyers have argued for months that this protection should also be extended to criminal prosecution.
Last week, a unanimous panel of two judges appointed by President Joe Biden and one by a Republican president strongly rejected Trump's new claim that former presidents enjoy absolute immunity for actions falling within their official duties. It was the second time since December that justices have held that Trump can be prosecuted for actions committed while in the White House and in the run-up to Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
The case was argued before Judges Florence Pan and J. Michelle Childs, appointed by Biden, a Democrat, and Karen LeCraft Henderson, who was appointed to the bench by President George HW Bush, a Republican.
The Washington case is one of four lawsuits Trump faces as he tries to reclaim the White House. He faces federal charges in Florida for illegally retaining confidential documents at his Mar-a-Lago property, a case that was also brought by Smith and will be tried in May.
He was also charged in Georgia state court with planning to subvert the 2020 state election and, in New York, in connection with hush payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels. He denied any wrongdoing.