washington — The Supreme Court said Friday that it would not immediately take up a plea by special counsel Jack Smith to rule on whether former President Donald Trump can be prosecuted for his actions to overturn the 2020 election results.
The ruling is a win for Trump and his lawyers, who have sought repeatedly to delay this and other criminal cases against him as he seeks to reclaim the White House in 2024. It averts a swift ruling from the nation’s highest court that could have definitively turned aside his claims of immunity and pushed the case toward a trial scheduled to start on March 4.
The issue will now be decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which has signaled it will act quickly to decide the case. Smith had cautioned that even a rapid appellate decision might not get to the Supreme Court in time for review and final word before the court’s traditional summer break.
Smith had pressed the Supreme Court to intervene, citing significant public interest in a speedy resolution to the case. The request to leapfrog the appeals court, which Smith himself acknowledged was extraordinary, underscored prosecutors’ concerns that the legal fight over the issue could delay the start of Trump’s trial beyond next year’s presidential election.
The court turned down the request for swift action in a single-sentence order released Friday afternoon. As is the court’s custom, the justices gave no explanation for the decision. The Justice Department declined to comment.
With the justices remaining out of the dispute for now, more appeals are likely that could delay the case. If the appeals court, which is set to hear arguments on January 9, turns down Trump’s immunity claims, the former president could then ask for the Supreme Court to get involved and for the case to be paused while the matter is pending.
The high court still could act quickly once the appeals court issues its decision. A Supreme Court case usually lasts several months, but on rare occasions, the justices shift into high gear.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has put the case on hold while Trump pursues his claim that he is immune from prosecution. Chutkan has raised the possibility of keeping the March date if the case promptly returns to her court.
She has rejected the Trump team’s arguments that an ex-president could not be prosecuted over acts that fall within the official duties of the job.
“Former presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability,” Chutkan wrote in her December 1 ruling. “Defendant may be subject to federal investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction and punishment for any criminal acts undertaken while in office.”
Trump’s lawyers have for months signaled that they would ultimately ask the Supreme Court to take up the immunity question. But this week, they urged the justices to stand down for now.
“Importance does not automatically necessitate speed. 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,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.
There are still more Trump-related cases that the court — which includes three justices appointed by him — is poised to grapple with in the months ahead.
Trump’s lawyers plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a decision Tuesday by the Colorado Supreme Court barring him from that state’s ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits anyone who swore an oath to support the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection” against it from holding office.
And the high court separately has agreed to hear a case over the charge of obstruction of an official proceeding that has been brought against Trump as well as more than 300 of his supporters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021.