US Supreme Court set to decide Donald Trump's fate in election subversion case

The Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to decide whether Donald Trump may claim immunity in special counsel Jack Smith's election subversion case, adding another explosive appeal from the former president to its docket and further delaying his federal trial.

The court expedited the case and will hear arguments the week of April 22.

The move puts the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination on track for another high-stakes date with the high court, which earlier this month heard arguments in a separate case questioning whether Trump disqualified himself from running for a second term under the 14th Amendment's "insurrection ban."

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court arguments could come while Trump is on trial in New York on criminal charges of falsifying business records as part of a cover-up to conceal hush money payments before the 2016 election. (Trump has pleaded not guilty.)

The high court on Wednesday ordered that a lower court ruling against Trump remain on hold until it decides the issue. As is common when granting a case, the court released only a short order and did not indicate how the justices voted.

A spokesperson for the special counsel's office declined to comment.

The decision is a significant victory for Trump for at least two reasons: He will now be able to argue for sweeping presidential immunity that, if granted, could undermine the bevy of legal challenges he faces, and he will also be able to push off a trial, likely for several weeks at least.

It's also the second time the justices have rejected a request from Smith. The special counsel had months ago asked the high court to take the case before the DC Circuit decided it - and was rejected.

Had the justices rejected Trump's emergency request to pause the case, Smith would have been able to move more quickly - virtually guaranteeing a trial before the November election.

The court asked Trump to file his opening arguments in the case by March 19. Smith's office has been asked to file its own brief laying out their arguments by April 8, and Trump has until April 15 to submit his written final arguments before oral arguments are held.

SCOTUS waited nearly two weeks to make announcement

The court had waited nearly two weeks to issue its ruling on how it would proceed, suggesting there was behind-the-scenes maneuvering, said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

"The surprise is that it took the court the better part of two weeks to reach this result, from which no justice has publicly dissented," Vladeck said. "The justices couldn't reach consensus on a way to resolve the matter without giving it full briefing and argument."

"It's hard to read any tea leaves into whether that makes the court more likely to side with former President Trump when it finally resolves his immunity claim, but it certainly means that, even in the worst-case scenario for Trump, the January 6 prosecution will be delayed for at least another 3-5 months. That's a pretty big win for Trump even if he ends up losing this case," Vladeck added.

Trump had filed an emergency request at the Supreme Court on February 12 asking the justices to block a lower court ruling that he was not immune from Smith's election subversion charges. The former president argued immunity was needed to ensure that future presidents are not subjected to criminal charges. Without that guarantee, he said, "the presidency as we know it will cease to exist."

But that argument went nowhere in lower courts. A unanimous 57-page opinion from the DC Circuit earlier this month rejected the immunity claims. Trump and Smith filed dueling briefs at the Supreme Court over whether the decision should be put on hold.

Smith countered in his own filing on February 14 that Trump wasn't close to meeting the standard required to pause proceedings.

US District Judge Tanya Chutkan had already postponed the first trial date, originally set for March 4, while appeals courts wrestled with Trump's claims. Given the delays already, however, a trial likely wouldn't begin until May at the earliest.

Narrow question with sweeping impact

The high court Wednesday agreed to decide a relatively narrow question, but one with sweeping implications: Whether a former president enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution for acts taken while in office.

Trump argued that presidents might be hesitant to act if they were concerned about the prospect of criminal charges after they leave office. His criminal indictment in the 2020 election interference probe, if allowed to stand, would have a "chilling effect" on future administrations, he said.

But US Circuit Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson, Florence Pan and J. Michelle Childs rejected those arguments.

The judges were clear that the allegations against Trump are serious and left no question they believe the charges can be prosecuted. They eviscerated Trump's alleged behavior after the 2020 presidential election as unpresidential and constituting an assault on American institutions.

During more than two hours of oral argument in the separate ballot case on February 8, most of the justices appeared willing to side with Trump on the question of whether he can run for a second term. Trump's challengers claim his actions on January 6, 2021, made him ineligible under the 14th Amendment's "insurrectionist ban."

Together, the cases have thrust the court into the middle of this year's presidential election in a way it has largely managed to avoid since its decision in Bush v. Gore effectively decided the 2000 election between former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore.