Expert Alarmed: Freezing Trump's Jan. 6 Trial Risks Dire Consequences

Former President Faces Crucial Legal Battle Over Immunity

by Zain ul Abedin
Expert Alarmed: Freezing Trump's Jan. 6 Trial Risks Dire Consequences
© Win McNamee/Getty Images

In a pivotal development, the U.S. Supreme Court has allotted Special Counsel Jack Smith one week to respond to former President Donald Trump's plea to pause his federal criminal trial on election-subversion charges. This move follows Trump's legal team's appeal against a lower circuit court's rejection of his claimed presidential immunity for alleged crimes committed while in office.

Chief Justice John Roberts set a February 20, 4 p.m. deadline for Smith's reply. This timeline is unusual for the Supreme Court, which typically requests more prompt responses for emergency applications. However, as The New York Times reports, Smith is free to file earlier.

Bennett Gershman, a former New York prosecutor and law professor, noted to Salon that the court seems keen on fast-tracking the case, despite Trump's alleged delay tactics. He expects Smith to respond swiftly. Smith had earlier sought the Supreme Court's intervention in the immunity debate before the D.C.

Circuit appeals court's review, but was denied.

Trump's Immunity Appeal

Trump's recent appeal challenges the lower court's ruling that denied his complete immunity for actions during the 2020 election and other alleged offenses.

He argues that a trial would significantly disrupt his 2024 reelection campaign. The legal proceedings will remain stalled until the immunity issue is settled, potentially affecting the trial's timeline, possibly extending into the 2024 election cycle.

Trump's filing emphasizes the complexity and significance of a president's immunity from criminal prosecution. His lawyers also allege political motives behind Smith's push for an expedited trial, claiming it would hinder Trump's campaign against President Biden.

A recent unanimous decision by a D.C. circuit court panel strongly refuted Trump's immunity claim, stating that as a private citizen, he is subject to the same legal defenses as any other criminal defendant. This ruling underscores the second instance since December where courts have held Trump accountable for actions during his presidency, including those leading to the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack.

The Supreme Court's actions could significantly impact the trial's timing. While Smith advocates for a trial this year, Trump's team seeks delays. Gershman warns that any postponement by the Supreme Court could appear as enabling Trump's manipulation of the justice system.

He emphasizes the adage 'Justice delayed is justice denied,' highlighting the need for a balanced approach to justice for both defendants and prosecutors. The trial, initially scheduled for March 4, has been removed from Judge Tanya Chutkan's calendar, pending the Supreme Court's decision on Trump's stay request.

The outcome will significantly influence the trial's rescheduling and the broader implications for justice and legal precedent.