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The Supreme Court has denied the US Justice Department's request for an expedited ruling on whether Donald Trump is “absolutely immune” from federal prosecution for crimes allegedly committed while he was in the White House.
Friday afternoon's order, which was not accompanied by an explanation from the judges, means that the criminal case against the former president over his alleged attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election will first have to be decided by a lower appeals court.
That could delay a trial scheduled for March in the case brought by Jack Smith, the Justice Department special counsel appointed to oversee the federal prosecution of Trump — though it's unclear for how long.
The decision is a victory for Trump, the clear front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, as he battles numerous criminal and civil lawsuits with primaries set to begin in the coming months before the general election in November.
District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the election interference case in Washington, denied Trump's motion to dismiss the charges earlier this month, rejecting his argument that he is immune from prosecution for any acts related to his official duties as president. He subsequently appealed that decision to an intermediate appeals court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and asked that all proceedings related to the case be stayed pending a final order.
Smith urged the Supreme Court to take the unusual step of bypassing the DC Circuit and granting “immediate review.” The Supreme Court's decision was the “only way” to achieve a “timely and definitive resolution” to Trump's challenge, he argued in his petition.
Trump's lawyers urged the judge to deny the request, arguing that the decision is among the “most complicated, complex and weighty issues that this court will have to decide” and therefore should not be rushed through the judicial hierarchy at “breakneck speed”.
“In 234 years of American history, no president has ever faced criminal prosecution for official acts. Until 19 days ago, no court had ever addressed whether there was immunity from such prosecution,” they wrote in a brief earlier this week.
The vindication of Trump's legal team comes ahead of another challenge expected to land at the Supreme Court, including a decision by the Colorado Supreme Court to disqualify the former president from the state's Republican primary.
The Colorado Supreme Court, which concluded in an unprecedented ruling that Trump was constitutionally barred from running for office for participating in the insurgency, delayed its decision until Jan. 4, pending an appeal to the Washington Supreme Court. Trump's lawyers have vowed to seek a Supreme Court review.
Meanwhile, the DC Circuit will hear arguments on the immunity challenge in early January. His decision will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court, meaning the High Court will again be asked to consider the issue.
“Crooked Joe Biden and his henchmen waited three years to bring this fraudulent case and now they tried to rush this witch hunt to court and they failed,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social site later Friday. “I look forward to the very important arguments on presidential immunity before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.”
Trump's popularity among Republican voters has not been hurt by his legal troubles, which include four separate sets of criminal charges. Smith also accused him of mishandling sensitive government documents, while the state of Georgia accused him of meddling in the 2020 vote.
A Manhattan state attorney has charged Trump with an alleged scheme to pay “hush money” to an adult film actress. Trump has pleaded not guilty in all cases.