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The special counsel has asked the Supreme Court to decide whether Trump has immunity

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The man appointed to lead the prosecution of former President Donald Trump for interfering in the last election has made an extraordinary request.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah, special counsel Jack Smith wants the Supreme Court to fast-track the case in what looks like an effort to make sure that Trump will face a jury before the 2024 election.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the story, and she's with us now. Good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So, Carrie, I take it the reason this is a story is that it's pretty unusual for the Supreme Court to weigh in at this stage of a criminal case. What's the prosecution's argument for moving so quickly?

JOHNSON: Special counsel Jack Smith says this case is a matter of enormous public importance. He says the question is fundamental to democracy. Is a former president totally immune from criminal prosecution for acts committed when he was president? The Supreme Court has never answered that question. All we know is that presidents enjoy some immunity from civil lawsuits. And the Justice Department says sitting presidents can't be charged with wrongdoing. But here we are talking about a former president who's accused of plotting to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power that culminated in violence at the U.S. Capitol.

MARTIN: So the judge in this case in Washington, D.C., has already set a trial date in March of 2024. How does that factor into the special counsel's request?

JOHNSON: If the Supreme Court waits for a lower appeals court to act on this case before it hears this central dispute about presidential immunity, that D.C. trial is really in jeopardy. Trump and his lawyers want to postpone the case until after the November election, and the Supreme Court usually finishes its work by June. So by asking for a speedy process now, the prosecutors are trying to make sure the High Court resolves a key question before next summer, before the Republican National Convention and other big dates on the political calendar.

MARTIN: So what kind of precedent is there for the Supreme Court to move so fast?

JOHNSON: You know, the prosecutors say the Supreme Court moved this quickly back in 1974 when President Richard Nixon refused to turn over White House tapes in the Watergate investigation. Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, posted the High Court had moved quickly in this way about 19 times since 2019. But former President Trump says this is a Hail Mary move from prosecutors. He said in a statement yesterday this case is politically motivated and a sham, and there is no reason to rush it. Four of nine justices need to agree to hear the case in order for the High Court to take it. Of course, Trump appointed three justices to the court, but they've been willing to rule against him on issues of substance. Either way, Trump's fate may be in the hands of the High Court now.

MARTIN: And the Supreme Court is also considering another issue related to the effort to overturn the last election. Would you tell us about that?

JOHNSON: Sure. Several people accused of taking part in the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, want the High Court to weigh in about the obstruction law they've been charged with breaking. It's an important issue because the Justice Department has used that same statute in hundreds of January 6 cases. And if the High Court finds prosecutors overreached there, it could really take away a major tool for the Justice Department. Donald Trump faces that same charge in the D.C. case against him as well.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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