Special counsel Jack Smith's request to the U.S. Supreme Court to immediately settle former President Donald Trump's claim of immunity in his election interference probe has been denied by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday.
The key question is whether Donald Trump has broad immunity for actions he took as president challenging his 2020 election loss.
Smith was trying to circumvent the normal legal procedure.
The court denied without comment Smith’s request asking the justices to circumvent the normal appeals court process and quickly decide the question, which looms large in Trump’s prosecution in Washington over allegations of election interference.
If Trump were to win on this threshold issue, Smith’s charges would be dismissed. If he loses, the legal proceedings in the trial court would continue, with Trump having other issues he could mount appeals over.
As a result of the court’s refusal to intervene, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear the matter first during a scheduled oral arguments hearing on Jan. 9.
Once that court rules, the U.S. Supreme Court could act quickly on whether to take up the case.
In asking the court to step in on an expedited basis, Smith said the case “presents a fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: whether a former President is absolutely immune from federal prosecution for crimes committed while in office.
Trump’s lawyers argued in court papers that Smith had given “no compelling reason” why the U.S. Supreme Court should immediately step in ahead of the appeals court.
On Dec. 7, Washington-based U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan denied Trump’s motion to dismiss his indictment on presidential immunity and constitutional grounds. The case is on hold while Trump appeals the decision.
Trump’s lawyers argue that his role in questioning the result of the election was within the “outer perimeter” of his official responsibilities, citing a 1982 Supreme Court ruling about presidential immunity. Therefore, under Supreme Court precedent, Trump is immune from prosecution.
They also say the Senate’s acquittal of Trump following impeachment proceedings over his role in events that led to Jan. 6, 2021 means he cannot be separately prosecuted for the same actions.
Smith argues that Trump’s role in seeking to overturn the election was not related to his official responsibilities as president and that the Constitution’s language on impeachment allows for separate criminal proceedings even if a president is acquitted in an impeachment trial.
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