The US Supreme Court declined to take up Trump's immunity dispute after a special counsel's request
(CNN) –– The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday denied special counsel Jack Smith's request to expedite arguments on whether former President Donald Trump has any immunity from federal investigation for crimes he committed while in office. The high court's ruling will delay the trial of the former president.
The judges did not explain their reasoning and did not dissent.
The Supreme Court's ruling represents a blow to Smith, who took the unusual step of bypassing a federal appeals court to quickly resolve a key issue in the election sabotage criminal case against Trump.
Both sides still have the option of appealing the Washington Circuit Court of Appeals' final decision to the Supreme Court. Still, Friday's decision was a big win for Trump, whose strategy to delay the criminal case included mounting a protracted battle over the question of immunity, which must be resolved before his case reaches the trial stage.
Now, an expedited review of the dispute is already underway in the Washington Circuit, which plans oral arguments on January 9. The trial of the election fraud case is set to begin in March.
“The real question is what happens then,” said Steve Vladek, a CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “Assuming the appeals court rejects Trump's claim, will it stay the trial pending further Supreme Court review, or allow the trial to move forward and force Trump to seek a stay from the Supreme Court? “It's still possible that the trial will begin on March 4, but the Supreme Court's apparent willingness to let the Washington Circuit act first makes that at least somewhat — perhaps significantly — less likely,” he explained.
In asking the court not to take up the case, Trump's lawyers argued that the special counsel was “trying to rush the issues by giving up impatiently.” “The fact that this case arises in the maelstrom of a political dispute warrants caution, not urgency,” Trump's lawyers wrote in court documents.
Trump's team earlier this month asked an appeals court to review the immunity ruling by District Judge Tanya Sudken, who is overseeing his criminal case.
Sutgen rejected arguments by Trump's lawyers that the criminal charge should be dismissed because he sought to “ensure election integrity” as part of his official capacity as president while allegedly undermining the results of the 2020 election. The judge stayed all procedural deadlines in the case pending the appeal.
But Smith's group sought to avoid appellate court review by having the Supreme Court now intervene.
“It is of public importance that the defendant's immunity claims be resolved by this court and that, if his immunity claim is denied, that the defendant's trial proceed promptly,” Smith's group wrote in its petition to the high court.
Smith pointed to a Watergate-era case in which the Supreme Court bypassed even an appeals court to quickly evaluate a case, and the justices ultimately rejected then-President Richard Nixon's presidential privilege claims over tapes from the Oval Office.
“In this case, the stakes are at least as high, if not higher: the resolution of the issue presented is the basis for determining whether the former president himself will go on trial, which is scheduled to begin within three months of the future,” the special counsel wrote in court documents.
Smith also strongly rejected Trump's claim that prosecutors were unfairly trying to push him to trial in March, writing that the claims were “baseless and false.”
Trump, Smith told the judges, “serious crimes have been charged because the grand jury followed the facts and applied the law. “The government seeks to have this court address the immunity claim so that those charges are resolved promptly, regardless of the outcome.”
The lawyers asked the court to decide whether Trump is protected by double jeopardy. Defense attorneys argued that because Trump was acquitted by the Senate during his impeachment trial, he could not be tried criminally for the same charges.