Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case on Trump’s Immunity Defense for Now (2024)



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The case will instead first be heard by a federal appeals court, which has put it on a fast track, scheduling arguments for Jan. 9.

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By Adam Liptak

Reporting from Washington

The Supreme Court declined on Friday to decide for now whether former President Donald J. Trump is immune from prosecution on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election.

The decision to defer consideration of a central issue in the case was a major practical victory for Mr. Trump, whose lawyers have consistently sought to delay criminal cases against him around the country.

It is unclear what the court’s order will mean for the timing of the trial, which is scheduled to start on March 4, though it makes postponement more likely. The case will now move forward in an appeals court, which has put it on a fast track, and most likely return to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks or months.

In denying review, the justices gave no reasons, which is typical, and there were no noted dissents.

Jack Smith, the special counsel prosecuting Mr. Trump, had asked the justices to move with extraordinary speed, bypassing the appeals court.

Any significant delays could plunge the trial into the heart of the 2024 campaign season or push it past the election, when Mr. Trump could order the charges be dropped if he wins the presidency.

A speedy decision by the justices was of the essence, Mr. Smith said in his petition seeking immediate Supreme Court review, because Mr. Trump’s appeal of a trial judge’s ruling rejecting his claim of immunity suspended the criminal trial.

Mr. Smith wrote that 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 or is constitutionally protected from federal prosecution when he has been impeached but not convicted before the criminal proceedings begin.”

“The United States recognizes that this is an extraordinary request,” Mr. Smith added. “This is an extraordinary case.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has put the case on a brisk schedule, ordering expedited briefing and scheduling arguments for Jan. 9.

The case will be heard by a three-member panel made up of Judge Karen L. Henderson, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and Judges Florence Y. Pan and J. Michelle Childs, who were both appointed by President Biden.

The panel will probably issue a prompt decision. If Mr. Trump loses, he could ask the full appeals court to rehear the case. In the end, the losing side will in all likelihood return to the Supreme Court.

The trial judge, Tanya S. Chutkan, rejected Mr. Trump’s sweeping claims that he had “absolute immunity” from the election interference indictment because it was based on actions he took while in office. She has since suspended proceedings in the case while an appeal moves forward.

Mr. Smith urged the justices to move fast: “The public importance of the issues, the imminence of the scheduled trial date and the need for a prompt and final resolution of respondent’s immunity claims counsel in favor of this court’s expedited review at this time.”

Mr. Trump’s lawyers took the opposite view, asking the justices to follow the usual procedure by letting the appeals court consider the matter first.

Importance does not automatically necessitate speed,Mr. Trump’s brief said. “If anything, the opposite is usually true. Novel, complex, sensitive and historic issues — such as the existence of presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts — call for more careful deliberation, not less.”

Mr. Smith called that approach misguided.

“The public interest in a prompt resolution of this case favors an immediate, definitive decision by this court,” he wrote. “The charges here are of the utmost gravity. This case involves — for the first time in our nation’s history — criminal charges against a former president based on his actions while in office.”

“And not just any actions: alleged acts to perpetuate himself in power by frustrating the constitutionally prescribed process for certifying the lawful winner of an election,” Mr. Smith added.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers countered that the case, and Mr. Smith’s desire to resolve it promptly, was driven by political considerations.

“He confuses the ‘public interest’ with the manifest partisan interest in ensuring that President Trump will be subjected to a monthslong criminal trial at the height of a presidential campaign where he is the leading candidate and the only serious opponent of the current administration,” the brief said.

The two sides rely on precedents that point in opposite directions, both involving President Richard M. Nixon.

In 1974, in United States v. Nixon, the court ruled that Nixon, then still in office, had to comply with a trial subpoena seeking tapes of his conversations in the Oval Office, rejecting his claims of executive privilege.

“Neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circ*mstances,” Chief Justice Warren E. Burger wrote.

Eight years later, in Nixon v. Fitzgerald, the court voted 5 to 4 in favor of Nixon in a civil case brought by an Air Force analyst who said he was fired in 1970 in retaliation for his criticism of cost overruns. By the time the court acted, Nixon had been out of office for several years.

“In view of the special nature of the president’s constitutional office and functions,” Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote for the majority, “we think it appropriate to recognize absolute presidential immunity from damages liability for acts within the ‘outer perimeter’ of his official responsibility.”

The Supreme Court will soon confront a different question arising from the aftermath of the 2020 election. On Tuesday, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Trump is not eligible to be on the primary ballot in that state under a provision of the Constitution that bars officials who have engaged in insurrection from holding office. Mr. Trump has said he will appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Alan Feuer contributed reporting.

Adam Liptak covers the Supreme Court and writes Sidebar, a column on legal developments. A graduate of Yale Law School, he practiced law for 14 years before joining The Times in 2002. More about Adam Liptak

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I'm an expert with in-depth knowledge of legal proceedings and the U.S. political landscape, having closely followed and analyzed various high-profile cases. My expertise includes an understanding of constitutional law, the functioning of federal appeals courts, and the historical context of presidential immunity.

Now, let's break down the key concepts used in the provided article:

  1. Trump Federal Election Case:

    • Refers to the legal proceedings involving former President Donald J. Trump related to charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election.
  2. The Indictment:

    • Describes the formal accusation or charge brought against Donald J. Trump, specifically for his alleged involvement in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.
  3. The Judge:

    • Mentions Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who presided over the trial at the lower court level, rejecting Trump's claim of "absolute immunity" and suspending proceedings pending an appeal.
  4. The Jury Pool:

    • Doesn't explicitly mention a jury pool in this article. In legal terms, a jury pool typically refers to the group of potential jurors from which the final jury is selected.
  5. The Co-Conspirators:

    • Implies the existence of individuals or entities working in collaboration with Donald J. Trump in the alleged plot to overturn the 2020 election. The article, however, does not provide specific details about these co-conspirators.
  6. Trump Investigations Tracker:

    • This is not explicitly explained in the article, but it suggests the existence of a tool or system tracking various legal investigations involving Donald J. Trump.
  7. U.S., World, Business, Arts, Lifestyle, Opinion, Audio, Games, Cooking, Wirecutter, The Athletic:

    • These headings likely represent different sections or categories of news and information. In this context, they may indicate the diverse coverage areas of the media outlet reporting on the Trump federal election case.
  8. Appeals Court:

    • Refers to the federal appeals court that will hear the case before it potentially returns to the Supreme Court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is mentioned.
  9. Supreme Court:

    • Denotes the highest court in the United States, which, in this case, declined to decide immediately on whether Trump is immune from prosecution. The article discusses the significance of this decision and the potential impact on the trial's timing.
  10. Presidential Immunity:

    • Central to the article is the debate over whether a former president, in this case, Donald J. Trump, is immune from federal prosecution for actions taken while in office. This draws parallels with historical cases involving President Richard M. Nixon and the concept of absolute presidential immunity.
  11. Legal Arguments and Precedents:

    • The article highlights the legal arguments presented by both sides, including the urgency expressed by the special counsel, Jack Smith, and the contrasting views on the speed of the legal process. Precedents involving President Richard M. Nixon are cited as relevant to the current case.

In summary, this article provides a snapshot of the current legal developments surrounding the Trump federal election case, emphasizing the delay caused by the Supreme Court's decision and the broader constitutional question of presidential immunity.

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case on Trump’s Immunity Defense for Now (2024)


Does the president have absolute immunity? ›

In Nixon v. Fitzgerald (1982), the Court held that presidents enjoy absolute immunity from civil litigation for acts within the “'outer perimeter' of [their] official responsibility” but explicitly reserved the issue of immunity from criminal liability.

How much money does Donald Trump have? ›

Who has absolute immunity in the US? ›

Generally, only judges, prosecutors, legislators, and the highest executive officials of all governments are absolutely immune from liability when acting within their authority. Medical peer review participants may also receive absolute immunity. Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.

Who has legal immunity in the US? ›

In the United States, sovereign immunity typically applies to the federal government and state government, but not to municipalities. Federal and state governments, however, have the ability to waive their sovereign immunity.

What is Joe Biden's net worth in 2024? ›

Biden's actual net worth is about $10 million, according to Forbes, which referred to him as “Middle-Class Joe” (though, in fairness, there's nothing “middle class” about being worth $10 million).

Is Trump the richest president of all time? ›

The richest president in history may be Donald Trump. However, his net worth is not precisely known because the Trump Organization is privately held. Truman was among the poorest U.S. presidents, with a net worth considerably less than $1 million.

How much is Trump worth today? ›

Who is protected by absolute immunity? ›

In United States law, absolute immunity is a type of sovereign immunity for government officials that confers complete immunity from criminal prosecution and suits for damages, so long as officials are acting within the scope of their duties.

Does the president have absolute power over the military? ›

Under the Constitution, the President, in addition to being Chief Executive, is Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. He holds the prime responsibility for the conduct of United States foreign relations.

Do government officials have immunity? ›

Qualified immunity has protected law enforcement officers and other government officials from being held accountable when they violate people's constitutional rights for decades.

Are government officials immune? ›

A Summary is a quick read to increase your knowledge of a topic. The doctrine of qualified immunity protects state and local officials, including law enforcement officers, from individual liability unless the official violated a clearly established constitutional right.

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