The U.S. Supreme Court is moving swiftly to review a petition from special counsel Jack Smith regarding the potential prosecution of former President Donald Trump for allegedly conspiring to overturn the 2020 election results. Smith has requested the Court to hasten its proceedings to avoid postponing the trial until after the upcoming presidential election.
The trial is scheduled to commence in March, and the Court has requested Trump’s legal team to respond to the special counsel’s motion by December 20. While Smith had sought an even earlier deadline, the Court settled on a slightly later date. The Court is set to convene on January 5, 2024, to discuss this and other matters, but it remains unclear if they will meet earlier to address Smith’s urgent request.
Previously, a federal judge had allowed the case against Trump to proceed, prompting him to appeal to the federal appeals court in Washington. However, Smith aims to skip this usual appellate step, seeking the Supreme Court’s direct involvement.
The prosecution argues that the case raises a crucial question about whether a former President can claim absolute immunity from federal prosecution for offenses committed while in office, or if constitutional protection applies post-impeachment but pre-criminal proceedings.
Trump’s campaign has criticized Smith’s approach, calling it a hasty and unjustified effort to harm the former President and his supporters. They vow to continue opposing what they describe as “authoritarian tactics.”
At the heart of the legal debate is a December 1 decision by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who dismissed Trump’s lawyers’ claims of his immunity from federal prosecution. She stated that ex-presidents do not have lifelong immunity from federal criminal charges and can be investigated, indicted, and punished for criminal acts committed during their presidency.
The Supreme Court’s involvement would mark its first ruling on the question of immunity for former presidents. The Justice Department’s existing policy precludes indicting a sitting president, but Trump’s legal team maintains that his actions as president should not lead to charges, a claim prosecutors strongly dispute.
Smith’s team emphasizes the urgency of the Supreme Court’s expedited review, given the extraordinary nature of the case. They also request the Court to consider Trump’s argument that he cannot be prosecuted for actions related to his impeachment and subsequent acquittal in Congress.
Trump faces charges accusing him of attempting to reverse the 2020 election outcome, leading to a violent riot at the U.S. Capitol. He denies any wrongdoing. Should the Supreme Court decide not to intervene at this stage, Trump’s appeal will continue in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Smith has also requested a quick review there, but notes that even a prompt appellate decision might not reach the Supreme Court in time for a final decision before the court’s summer recess.