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The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered special counsel Jack Smith to respond by next Tuesday to former President Trump’s blanket immunity appeal in his stalled Jan. 6 election interference case.
Chief Justice John Roberts gave prosecutors eight days to say whether they believe the top court should hear Trump’s explosive claim that he cannot be prosecuted for crimes he committed while in the White House.
Trump met a Monday deadline to ask the Supreme Court to hear his appeal of a unanimous D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel’s ruling that he cannot be allowed to be above the law.
Roberts’ ruling sets in motion a dance with the other eight justices that could result in Trump’s case being returned swiftly to Judge Tanya Chutkan for trial, being delayed indefinitely, or something in between.
If four or five of the nine justices believe the top court should hear Trump’s appeal, then they could decide to schedule arguments soon enough to make a ruling in a couple of months, enough time for the former president to face a summer trial.
Or they could hear the case in their normal fall session, effectively letting Trump off the hook until after the presidential election that he hopes will get him back into power and allow him to kill the case.
A third option would be for the court to refuse to hear the appeal and allow the appeals court decision to stand, a move that would lead to Trump’s trial likely starting in mid-spring.
Legal analysts are split over the odds of the justices going with any of the three likely outcomes.
Few believe the justices could side with Trump on the merits of his claim, which as the appeals court noted would give presidents the green light to order assassinations of their political opponents without facing any criminal liability.
Trump is accused of seeking to overturn his loss to President Biden in the 2020 election, an effort that culminated in the violent Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
It’s one of four criminal trials he faces covering 91 felony counts.
Chutkan originally set Trump’s trial date for March 4. But she has already said she will delay it to give Trump extra time to make up for the delay caused by his immunity appeal.
Smith’s reply is complicated by his own previous request in December that the Supreme Court should bypass the appeals court and hear Trump’s initial appeal.