Washington — Former President Donald Trump has asked the Supreme Court to stay a lower court's ruling that rejected his broad claims of immunity from criminal prosecution in the federal case related to the 2020 election.
In a 39-page filing released Monday, Trump's lawyers asked the justices to implement a “stay” of the ruling by a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel said it would delay implementing its ruling until Feb. 12 to give Trump time to turn to the high court.
Five judges needed to approve Trump's emergency aid request. Trump's lawyers said the stay was necessary to give them time to seek further review of the decision, either before the full Washington Circuit or the Supreme Court itself. The filing indicates that they will eventually ask the High Court to settle the matter once and for all.
Trump's filing says the D.C. Circuit panel's decision represents “a blatant violation of historical precedent and norms.”
“Without immunity from criminal prosecution, the presidency as we know it will cease to exist,” attorneys D. John Sauer and John Lauro wrote.
The decision of the court of appeal
The three appeals court judges – Karen LeCraft Henderson, Michelle Childs and Florence Pan – ruled last week that Trump was not immune from prosecution in the criminal case brought against him by the special counsel Jack Smith. The justices rejected the former president's argument that he should be shielded from charges because the conduct alleged in the federal indictment occurred while he was in office.
“For purposes of this criminal case, former President Trump became a Trump citizen, with all the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” the panel wrote in its opinion. “But any executive immunity that might have protected him while he was president no longer protects him from these prosecutions.”
Last year, a federal grand jury indicted Trump on four counts stemming from an alleged attempt to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has denied any wrongdoing.
The justices wrote that they “cannot accept former President Trump's assertion that a president has unlimited power to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power: recognition and implementation of election results.
Adopting Trump's argument, they continued, would mean “that the executive branch has carte blanche to violate the rights of individual citizens to vote and have their votes count.”
The appeals court said its decision would take effect on February 12 unless Trump requests emergency relief from the Supreme Court, or if the full appeals court agrees to hear the case after the date limit.
In their request for a stay, the former president's legal team argued that the High Court had “compelling” reasons to stay the appeal court's decision pending further proceedings. They said the question of presidential immunity from federal charges is a new issue for the court to decide and that the criminal case against Trump would continue if the judges do not act, linking the legal battle to his campaign for take back the White House.
“The special counsel urgently seeks to force President Trump into a months-long criminal trial at the height of election season, thereby sidelining him and preventing him from campaigning against the current president whose special counsel “ultimately falls to President Biden,” the filing said. said. “It would inflict grave harm on President Trump and all American voters, whether they support him or not, and threaten to taint the federal courts with the appearance of partisanship.”
They ask the Supreme Court to consider whether the doctrine of presidential immunity extends to criminal prosecutions of a president for acts committed while in office, and whether the impeachment of a president by the House and his acquittal by the Senate preclude prosecutions for similar conduct.
The Supreme Court had previously ruled in a 1982 decision involving Richard Nixon that presidents were immune from civil suits arising from acts performed in the course of their official duties.
Trump's legal team argued that if a president is allowed to face charges, prosecutions will become “increasingly common, setting the stage for destructive cycles of recrimination.”
“The threat of future criminal prosecution from a politically opposed administration will overshadow the official actions of all future presidents, especially the most politically controversial decisions,” Lauro and Sauer wrote. “The President's political opponents will seek to influence and control his decisions through effective extortion or blackmail with the threat, explicit or implicit, of indictment by a future hostile administration, for acts that do not warrant such proceedings.”
The lawyers directly echoed the appeals court's decision, saying it misinterpreted legal precedent and “committed a series of fundamental errors,” arguing that the unanimous opinion ignored constitutional concerns about the separation of powers. They argued that issues of this magnitude require time to resolve and that Trump's criminal case should not be allowed to proceed until those issues are resolved.
What happens next
In their filing Monday, Trump's lawyers said their next steps would be dictated by how judges decide their request for a stay. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority and includes three justices appointed by Trump himself.
As further relief, Trump is asking the court to keep the panel's decision in abeyance pending resolution of not only the Supreme Court proceedings, but also his “anticipated” request for the entire D.C. Circuit to review the decision of the judges. His lawyers said Trump plans to seek review from the full appeals court “in due course.”
If the Washington Circuit refuses to review the panel's decision or the rules against Trump, the former president could then ask the Supreme Court to intervene. The Supreme Court could also grant a stay and decide to take up the case immediately.
The former president first raised his claim for presidential immunity in October, when he asked U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the criminal case in Washington, to dismiss the charges. Chutkan denied the request, and Trump later appealed the decision to the D.C. Circuit.
The trial schedule in the Chutkan court has since been suspended. Earlier this month, she postponed the March 4 trial date indefinitely until the immunity issue was resolved.
Smith, the special counsel, asked the Supreme Court last month to override the appeals court and decide the immunity question once and for all, but the high court refused to expedite the case and instead allowed the appeal process to continue. The special counsel's office declined to comment Monday on Trump's case.
The Supreme Court has never decided whether former presidents are entitled to criminal immunity for conduct that occurred while they were in the White House. Trump is the first former president in the country's history to be indicted.
Investigations into Trump More More Robert Legare
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