Supreme Court will hear Trump’s ‘immunity’ claim in election conspiracy case

The US Supreme Court will hear a case from Donald Trump after federal court judges rejected his “immunity” defense from criminal charges stemming from his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

An order from the nation’s highest court on Wednesday comes after Mr Trump’s legal team argued in front of the justices for a separate case, one that challenges a Colorado court ruling that disqualifies him from 2024 ballots.

His attorneys will now be headed right back to court on 22 April for another major constitutional question over his “immunity” defence – smack in the middle of a primary election calendar and Mr Trump’s busy schedule of multiple criminal and civil cases.

Progress in the election conspiracy case under special counsel Jack Smith has effectively been ground to a halt with Mr Trump’s ongoing appeal of a central question in the case, one that has so far been shot down at both the appeals court and by the federal judge overseeing the case.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday did not express any views about the case, but ordered the appeals court to withhold its order until a final word from the justices.

Mr Trump’s briefs are due no later than 19 March, and responses from special counsel Jack Smith’s team are due no later than 8 April, with oral arguments before the justices scheduled for 22 April.

A ruling would likely come in June or July.

The timeline suggests that a criminal trial against Mr Trump – on charges connected to his attempts to overturn 2020 election results, and his failure to stop a mob from storming the US Capitol to do it by force – may not materialise until later this summer, or after the 2024 election, raising the prospect of a president-elect on trial, or the possibility of a President Trump instructing federal law enforcement to toss the case altogether.

In their unanimous rebuke earlier this month, appeals court judges wrote that “citizen Trump” is not shielded by executive immunity, and that his “alleged efforts to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election were, if proven, an unprecedented assault on the structure of our government.”

The 57-page ruling delivered an outright rejection of his premise that a president has “unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralise the most fundamental check on executive power – the recognition and implementation of election results”, as well as his “carte blanche” efforts “to violate the rights of individual citizens to vote and to have their votes count”.

“We cannot accept that the office of the presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter,” they added.

In December, US District Judge Tanya Chutkan rejected Mr Trump’s motion to dismiss the case on “immunity” grounds, writing in a 48-page ruling that his four-year term “did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens”.

The office of the presidency “does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass”, nor do former presidents enjoy any special consideration after leaving office, when they are “subject to federal investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction, and punishment for any criminal acts undertaken while in office,” she wrote.

In their initial filing to the Supreme Court on the “immunity” defence, attorneys for Mr Trump claimed that a months-long criminal trial on election interference charges “at the height of election season” will “radically disrupt” his campaign against President Joe Biden, and gestured at Mr Trump’s baseless conspiracy theory that investigations into the former president are part of a Democratic-led campaign against him.

Disrupting Mr Trump’s campaign is the “whole point of the Special Counsel’s persistent demands for expedition,” according to Mr Trump’s legal team.

The former president greeted the news on his Truth Social account, writing: “Legal Scholars are extremely thankful for the Supreme Court’s Decision today to take up Presidential Immunity.”

Former Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tweeted that the court was testing itself by taking up the case: “The Supreme Court is placing itself on trial with its decision to hear the former president’s total immunity claim. It remains to be seen whether the justices will uphold the fundamental American value that no one is above the law – not even a former president.”