23 Dec 2023

Supreme Court declines to fast-track Trump immunity case

11:03 am on 23 December 2023
Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump applauds at the end of a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, on December 19, 2023. An appeals court in Colorado on December 19, 2023 ruled Donald Trump cannot appear on the state's presidential primary ballot because of his involvement in the attack on the Capitol in January 2021. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP)

Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump applauds at the end of a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, on 19 December, 2023. Photo: AFP/ Kamil Krzaczynski

By Madeline Halpert and Anthony Zurcher for the BBC

The US Supreme Court has declined, for now, to decide whether former president Donald Trump has immunity from prosecution for allegedly trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump's efforts to delay his trial appears successful, as the case must now work through the appeals process.

Special counsel Jack Smith had asked the court to take up the case in an expedited manner.

Trump was indicted on election subversion charges earlier this year.

The court did not explain its decision, instead issuing an unsigned order saying that Smith's petition "is denied".

The ruling is a setback for Smith, who had asked the Supreme Court to intervene early for fear that the appeals process could delay the start of Trump's trial, which was scheduled to begin on 4 March in Washington, DC.

Smith's office declined to comment on the ruling.

Trump is being investigated for his alleged attempts to overturn the election leading up to the 6 January Capitol riot.

District Judge Tanya Chutkan has paused the case while Trump appeals. The former president claimed he was immune from prosecution because he was acting in his official capacity as president before and during the riots.

In court filings, Smith argued the Supreme Court should consider the case because it presented "a fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: whether a former president is absolutely immune" from being prosecuted for federal crimes allegedly committed while in the White House.

"The United States recognises that this is an extraordinary request," he added. "This is an extraordinary case."

Trump's lawyers had argued the request to expedite the trial was politically motivated, claiming in court filings that it was part of an effort to "ensure that President Trump - the leading Republican candidate for President, and the greatest electoral threat to President Biden - will face a months-long criminal trial at the height of his presidential campaign".

The ruling means the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit will have to hear the case before it can be appealed to the Supreme Court. It is expected that the US's highest court will eventually have to issue a ruling.

The appeals process may delay the start date of the trial, however, which prosecutors had hoped to hold before the election.

Arguments are set to be heard in the case in DC Circuit Court on 9 January.

Judge Chutkan had already rejected Trump's immunity claims, writing in a previous ruling that the former president's "four-year service as Commander in Chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens".

Trump appealed that decision to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

The former New York real estate mogul currently faces dozens of criminal charges across four cases, including two related to his alleged election subversion efforts.

Smith has brought charges against the former president in Florida for his handling of classified documents.

The SCOTUS decision also comes after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that Trump could no longer appear on the state's 2024 Republican primary ballot because of the 14th amendment insurrection clause.

The justices ruled Trump was ineligible as a candidate because of his actions related to the Capitol riots.

The former president has appealed that case to the US Supreme Court.

Trump has also filed a motion this week to delay a civil defamation trial brought by writer E. Jean Carroll. A civil jury found earlier this year that Mr Trump is liable for allegedly sexually assaulting Caroll.

- This story was first published by the BBC

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