Constitutional Law

What happens next after Supreme Court agrees to hear Trump immunity case

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Former President Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump faces criminal charges in D.C., Florida, Georgia and New York. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to weigh Donald Trump’s claim that he is immune from criminal prosecution on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election while president, setting historic oral arguments for the week of April 22 and further delaying his trial in Washington, D.C., during this presidential election year.

Here’s what to know about what happens next in the case and how it may affect his three other pending criminal cases in Florida, Georgia and New York.

What did the Supreme Court decide?

The Supreme Court set a fast-tracked schedule for the former president’s attorneys and special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecutors to file written arguments over the next seven weeks on this question: “Whether and if so to what extent does a former president enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.”

In taking Trump’s case, the high court also ordered that Trump’s trial—originally set to begin March 4 in Washington—continue to be placed on hold pending its final decision.

What does the decision mean?

The bottom line: Trump, who is again running for president, will likely not face trial before summer at the earliest, if at all. If the Supreme Court rejects Trump’s appeal in May or June and agrees that he can be prosecuted, a trial could be rescheduled in about two months, still before the 2024 election in which Trump is the runaway front-runner for the GOP nomination.

Does the court’s acceptance of Trump’s appeal offer any hint of how it will rule?

Not necessarily. It takes the votes of just four of nine justices to accept an appeal. In continuing to postpone Trump’s underlying criminal case, the court made clear it was not expressing a view on the merits of Trump’s claim and did not announce any vote on Trump’s initial request for a stay (which would require five votes), instead declaring it moot. A lower court had already ordered that the case remain frozen if the Supreme Court took up the appeal, until it was finally decided.

Is there any deadline by which the court would have to issue a decision?

All opinions are typically handed down by the last day of the court’s term in late June or early July before it recesses for the summer.

What is the case about?

Special counsel Jack Smith has accused Trump of leading a criminal conspiracy to thwart the peaceful transfer of political power, alleging that the then-president was so determined to hold onto the White House that he propagated a flood of lies claiming the election was stolen, culminating in the violent assault on Congress.

The 45-page, four-count indictment says Trump attempted to use knowingly false claims of massive fraud to get state officials to act to change voting results; threatened the Justice Department’s leaders to open sham investigations alleging election crimes; tried to submit fraudulent slates of electors from key swing states to obstruct Congress’s certification proceeding, and pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, to use his ceremonial role overseeing the proceeding to overturn the results.

Trump allegedly did so despite being told repeatedly that his claims were untrue, including by his attorney general, the nation’s top intelligence officials, White House lawyers and campaign aides. The special counsel has charged that the conspiracy targeted and destabilized a bedrock function of the government—collecting, counting and certifying the presidential election results—and continued trying to exploit the violence at the Capitol to press lawmakers to change their positions.

Trump denies all wrongdoing and has accused President Biden and the Justice Department of trying to interfere with the 2024 election by targeting him, the GOP front-runner.

What does this mean for Trump’s other cases and trial dates?

The decision should not affect Trump’s state criminal cases in New York, which is scheduled to start in less than four weeks. The former president has raised a similar immunity defense in his separate federal criminal prosecution in Florida, and his separate state trial in Georgia, it is not yet clear how those issues could be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision.

Trump is set to go to trial March 25 in state court in Manhattan on 34 counts of falsifying business records related to a $130,000 hush money payment made to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in 2016, on the eve of that year’s presidential election.

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said he confirmed the date two weeks ago after consulting with U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing Trump’s case in D.C. Trump’s New York trial is expected to take six weeks, and could be completed by late spring.

Trump is also scheduled for trial in late May in Florida on charges of illegally retaining classified documents and obstructing government attempts to retrieve them. But U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon of Fort Pierce, Fla., has indicated that she may delay the proceedings to allow more time for the lawyers to review highly classified evidence. She has set a scheduling hearing for Friday.

Trump’s fourth criminal case—state charges in Fulton County, Ga., that he conspired with more than dozen others to subvert the 2020 election results in that case—does not have a trial date set. That case is currently tied up amid defense allegations that a romantic relationship between Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) and her lead prosecutor has tainted the case, which Willis denies.

Is there any deadline for Trump to face trial in D.C.?

No, but Smith has urged that the trial be held swiftly in the national interest, and Trump’s critics have argued that voters should have the benefit of knowing the judicial system’s verdict on Trump before Election Day. If Trump is elected president in November, he is expected to end the prosecution, and has argued that voters should serve as his ultimate jury.

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