'Presidents are not kings' judge will oversee Trump election-subversion case

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AP Judge Tanya Chutkan

Judge Tanya Chutkan of Washington, D.C., has been initially assigned to the election-fraud case against former President Donald Trump. Photo from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts via the Associated Press.

A federal judge who has previously ruled against former President Donald Trump will be overseeing the new criminal case accusing him of conspiring to subvert the 2020 election.

Judge Tanya Chutkan of Washington, D.C., had ruled against Trump in November 2021, when she ordered the release of White House records to the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot.

In her 2021 opinion, Chutkan said President Joe Biden wasn’t required to honor Trump’s executive privilege claim. “Presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president,” Chutkan wrote. (U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson also used the “presidents are not kings” phrase when she was a federal judge ruling that the White House counsel had to testify in the congressional probe.)

Chutkan will take over the new case after Trump makes his first court appearance before a U.S. magistrate judge Thursday.

CNN, the New York Times, the Associated Press and the Washington Post have coverage of the ruling and a closer look at Chutkan.

Chutkan, 61, is a 2014 appointee of former President Barack Obama. As of mid-June, she had presided over 31 trials for Jan. 6 rioters and sentenced every defendant to as least some jail or prison time, according to a database from the Washington Post. The statistics indicated that she is the toughest sentencing judge in those cases in Washington, D.C., federal court.

Chutkan has imposed tougher sentences than recommended by prosecutors in nine cases and agreed to recommendations in 14 other cases, according to the Washington Post. That contrasts with courtwide figures showing that D.C. federal judges have imposed sentences in Jan. 6 cases that are below prosecutors’ recommendations about 80% of the time.

In other cases, Chutkan ruled in 2017 that an American citizen held in military detention in Iraq had a right to a lawyer, blocked four federal executions in 2019 to consider inmates’ claims, and ordered the U.S. government in 2017 to allow an abortion for a 17-year-old immigrant who was being held in a Texas shelter because she was in the country illegally.

Chutkan was born in Jamaica, according to her online biography. The Washington Post described her as a “trained dancer.” She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from George Washington University and a JD from the school now known as the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. She is a former Washington, D.C., assistant public defender and a former partner with Boies Schiller Flexner who worked in white-collar criminal defense and antitrust class action litigation.

“As a matter of political reality,” the New York Times reports, “it may also prove significant that Judge Chutkan is Black, an immigrant and a woman. Mr. Trump has a history of attacking judges and prosecutors—especially those who are women, members of minority groups or both—in personal terms.”

Chutkan was chosen by random draw to oversee the case, according to the Washington Post.

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