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Judge Rejects Trump’s Free Speech Challenge in Georgia Case

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A Georgia judge on Thursday rejected former President Donald Trump and his co-defendants’ efforts to dismiss the ongoing state election interference case they argue violates their First Amendment rights.

Trump and his 14 co-defendants argued in a defense motion to dismiss the Fulton County indictment that it violated their constitutional right to challenge the 2020 presidential election.

In a 14-page ruling, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ruled their right to protest does not protect them from the state racketeering case that alleges they interfered with Georgia’s election results, where President Joe Biden was the victor.

The “Court finds these vital constitutional protections do not reach the actions and statements alleged by the State,” McAfee wrote, before denying the defense motion. “Nor do the statues themselves facially violate the First Amendment.”

Trump’s lawyer, Steve Sadow, told The Daily Beast in a statement that the former president and the other defendants “respectfully disagree with Judge McAfee’s order and will continue to evaluate their options regarding the First Amendment challenges.”

“It is significant that the court’s ruling was without prejudice, as it made clear that defendants were not foreclosed from again raising their ‘as-applied challenges at the appropriate time after the establishment of a factual record,” he added.

Trump Appeals Decision Allowing Fani Willis to Stay on His Case

The denied defense motion is the latest procedural step in the ongoing case brought by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office—which was briefly derailed by misconduct allegations after a revealed affair between the DA and a former special prosecutor.

Last month, McAfee also pared down the indictment by dropping six criminal charges, including counts related to Trump’s infamous January 2021 phone call with Georgia’s secretary of state, where the former president demanded he “find 11,780 votes” that didn’t exist to flip the ballot results.

There is no set trial date for the criminal case, but CNN reported last month that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis plans to try it this summer.

In his Thursday ruling, McAfee argued that the indictment alleges more than just statements against a political party or election and was unable to find “any authority that the speech and conduct alleged is protected political speech.” He added that the Petition Clause of the First Amendment—which allows communication with government officials— “does not extend to allegedly fraudulent petitions.”

“In other words, the law does not insulate speech allegedly made during fraudulent or criminal conduct from prosecution under the guise of petitioning the government,” McAfee wrote.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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