Latest Global News | Trump seeks Supreme Court pause in 2020 election case

  • By Chloe Kim and Nadine Yousif
  • BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Ex-US President Donald Trump has asked the Supreme Court to suspend a lower court ruling that he does not have presidential immunity from prosecution.

He had claimed in his election interference case he could not be tried for acts carried out as president.

Three lower court judges disagreed, ruling that he can be prosecuted like any other citizen.

But Mr Trump’s lawyers said he should not be tried during an election campaign.

“Conducting a months-long criminal trial of President Trump at the height of election season will radically disrupt President Trump’s ability to campaign against President Biden,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in the filing.

The Supreme Court will now decide if it will put the ruling on hold to allow Mr Trump to appeal.

The conservative-majority top court granting the request would lead to a long delay in the landmark criminal case alleging that Mr Trump plotted to illegally overturn the 2020 election, possibly until after the November election.

However, if the Supreme Court declines to put the ruling on pause, the federal trial overseen by Judge Tanya Chutkan will be scheduled, likely for spring.

As Mr Trump vies for the White House, he faces three other criminal trials in addition to this one.

He faces charges in Georgia for an alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 election results in the state and a seven-count indictment in Florida over his handling of classified documents after he left the White House.

The third, based in New York, is related to the alleged concealment of a payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. He has pleaded not guilty against the charges in all the cases.

Mr Trump’s legal team has also made repeated attempts to delay his criminal trials until after the 2024 election.

In the federal election interference trial, Mr Trump has been charged with four counts: conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy against the rights of citizens.

He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, and his lawyers have argued that presidents are immune from prosecution for possible crimes committed while they are in office, even after they leave the White House.

Last week, this argument was rejected by a three-judge panel from the DC Circuit court, made up of one Republican appointee and two Democratic ones, who ruled that “any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as president no longer protects him against this prosecution”.

Now, Mr Trump’s lawyers are asking the Supreme Court to weigh in by putting the lower court’s ruling on hold to allow time for all active judges on the DC Circuit court to review the case.

In their filing, they warned that denying the former president immunity would set a precedent where “such prosecutions will recur and become increasingly common”.

“Without immunity from criminal prosecution, the Presidency as we know it will cease to exist,” Mr Trump’s lawyers argued.

If the lower circuit court declines a review, Mr Trump has asked that the ruling remain on hold while he files a formal appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court could respond to Mr Trump’s request in a few ways.

It could deny his ask to put the ruling on hold, which would resume the federal trial. It could deny Mr Trump’s request for a review, which would effectively shut down his immunity argument.

The court could also decide to hear Mr Trump’s appeal immediately, bypassing a review from the lower court. It could do so on a fast track, similar to a separate case it is currently weighing on whether Mr Trump is eligible to be on the ballot in the 2024 election.

It could also decide to hear it on the court’s usual schedule, which could likely delay a trial in the case well past November’s election date.

The Supreme Court previously denied a request late last year by Special Counsel Jack Smith, the lead prosecutor on the case, to issue an expedited ruling on Mr Trump’s immunity argument.

It is unclear when the Supreme Court might rule on Mr Trump’s request.