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Supreme Court Declines To Expedite Decision On Trump’s Immunity Claim In 2020 Election Case

The US supreme court on Friday rejected a request by the special counsel to expeditiously decide whether Donald Trump has immunity from federal prosecution over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, before a lower appeals court issued its own judgment.

The decision means the case is returned to the US court of appeals for the District of Columbia (DC) circuit, and the case against Trump remains frozen pending the outcome of the appeal.

In declining to leapfrog the lower court and fast-track the case, the supreme court handed a crucial victory to Trump as he seeks to delay as much as possible his trial, currently scheduled for next March in federal district court in Washington DC.

Trump was indicted in June by the special counsel Jack Smith for conspiring to impede the peaceful transfer of power, including by submitting fake slates of electors who would assert Trump not Joe Biden had won the White House – and for seeking to stop the 6 January 2021, congressional certification of the 2020 election results.

The former president had sought to have the charges thrown out by filing a motion to dismiss that advanced a sweeping interpretation of executive authority, arguing he could not be prosecuted for actions he undertook as president that were related to his official duties.

The filing contended that all of Trump’s attempts to reverse his 2020 election defeat in the indictment, ranging from pressuring his vice-president, Mike Pence, to stop the congressional certification to organizing fake slates of electors, were in his capacity as president and therefore protected.

At the heart of the Trump legal team’s filing was the extraordinary contention that not only was Trump entitled to absolute presidential immunity, but that the immunity applied regardless of Trump’s intent in engaging in the conduct described in the indictment.

This month, his motion was rejected by the presiding US district judge Tanya Chutkan. That set the stage for Trump, who had always expected the motion to fail, to lodge an appeal that would stay the case while the DC circuit considered the matter.

Obtaining the stay was always part of Trump’s strategy – he is seeking delay because if he wins re-election before the trial occurs, he could arrange to have the charges dismissed – and his lawyers were counting on a lengthy appeals process that would buy the time.

The strategy, according to people close to Trump’s legal team, involved Trump going to the supreme court and securing additional weeks or months of delay – only after weeks of delay before the DC circuit.

But prosecutors attempted to preempt Trump’s ploy by asking the supreme court to bypass the DC circuit and resolve the immunity question directly. In court filings, the special counsel suggested keeping the March trial date was in the public interest.

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The request from prosecutors that the nation’s highest court rule on a case before judgment by an appeals court was unusual but underscored the gravity of the moment.

On Friday, the court essentially sided with Trump, who had argued the day before on procedural grounds for the special counsel’s petition to be denied.

The supreme court did not immediately disclose its reasons for declining Smith’s request nor whether any of the justices on the nine-member bench had dissented.

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