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Supreme Court to decide Trump immunity claim, further delaying election subversion trial

Originally Published: 28 FEB 24 17:02 ET

Updated: 28 FEB 24 17:27 ET

By John Fritze, CNN

(CNN) — 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 agreed to expedite the case and 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.”

The high court ordered that a lower court ruling against Trump remain on hold until it decides the issue.

CNN has reached out to Smith’s office for 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.

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 had waited nearly two weeks to issue its ruling on how it would proceed, suggesting there was behind-the-scened 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 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.

CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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