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Supreme Court rejects Jack Smith’s request for justices to quickly hear Trump immunity dispute

By Devan Cole, CNN

(CNN) — The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request by special counsel Jack Smith to fast-track arguments on whether Donald Trump has any immunity from federal prosecution for alleged crimes he committed while in office – a move that will likely delay his trial.

The court did not explain its reasoning and there were no noted dissents.

The court’s decision is a major blow to Smith, who made an extraordinary gamble when he asked the justices to take the rare step of skipping a federal appeals court and quickly deciding a fundamental issue in his election subversion criminal case against Trump.

Both sides will still have the option of appealing an eventual ruling by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals up to the high court, but the court’s move is a major victory for Trump, whose strategy of delay in the criminal case included mounting a protracted fight over the immunity question, which must be settled before his case goes to trial.

An expedited review of the issue is already underway at the DC Circuit, which has scheduled oral arguments for January 9. The election subversion trial is currently set to begin in March.

“The real question is what happens then,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “Assuming the Court of Appeals rejects Trump’s claim, will it keep the trial on hold pending further review from the Supreme Court, or will it allow the trial to go forward and force Trump to seek a stay from the Supreme Court? It’s still possible that the trial begins on March 4, but the Supreme Court’s apparent willingness to let the DC Circuit go first makes it at least somewhat – and perhaps significantly – less likely.”

In urging the court to not take the case, Trump’s attorneys argued the special counsel was trying to “rush to decide the issues with reckless abandon.”

“The fact that this case arises in the vortex of political dispute warrants caution, not haste,” Trump attorneys wrote in court papers.

After the Supreme Court’s rejection, Trump continued to insist he has immunity from federal prosecution, writing on social media Friday. “I was President, it was my right and duty to investigate, and speak on, the rigged and stolen 2020 Presidential Election. Looking forward to the very important arguments on Presidential Immunity in front of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals!” he wrote on social media Friday.

Trump’s team had asked the appeals court earlier this month to examine the immunity ruling issued by District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing his criminal case.

Chutkan had rejected arguments from Trump’s attorneys that the criminal indictment should be thrown out because he was working to “ensure election integrity” as part of his official capacity as president when he allegedly undermined the 2020 election results, and therefore is protected under presidential immunity. The judge has paused all procedural deadlines in the case while the appeal plays out.

But Smith’s team sought to bypass the appeals court’s review of the matter by having the justices step in now.

“It is of imperative public importance that respondent’s claims of immunity be resolved by this Court and that respondent’s trial proceed as promptly as possible if his claim of immunity is rejected,” Smith’s team wrote in its petition to the Supreme Court.

Smith pointed to a Watergate-era case in which the high court also leapfrogged over an appeals court to quickly hear a case in which the justices ultimately rejected then-President Richard Nixon’s claims of presidential privilege in a subpoena fight over Oval Office tapes.

“Here, the stakes are at least as high, if not higher: the resolution of the question presented is pivotal to whether the former President himself will stand trial – which is scheduled to begin less than three months in the future,” the special counsel wrote in court papers.

Prosecutors also asked the court to decide whether Trump is protected by double jeopardy. Defense lawyers have asserted that because Trump was acquitted by the Senate during his impeachment trial that he cannot be criminally tried for the same alleged actions.

Smith had pushed back strongly on Trump’s claim that prosecutors were trying to unfairly rush him to trial this March, writing that those claims “are unfounded and incorrect.”

The former president, Smith told the justices, “stands accused of serious crimes because the grand jury followed the facts and applied the law. The government seeks this Court’s resolution of the immunity claim so that those charges may be promptly resolved, whatever the result.”

Trump quickly began fundraising off the Supreme Court’s order, stressing his ongoing legal fights and taking aim at the Justice Department.

“The Supreme Court just DENIED the Biden prosecutor’s emergency request to ROB me of my right to presidential immunity,” the fundraising message read. “I will still have to fight for my rights in the Appeals Court – as the Biden Special Counsel will do everything in their power to rush my fake trial and wrongly CONVICT me before the 2024 election.”

CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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