There’s breaking news on two fronts in January 6 related legal proceedings. First, Judge Tanya Chutkan has temporarily suspended pre-trial activity related to the Trump case scheduled to start in her courtroom in March, 2024. As I’m sure you know Trump filed an appeal claiming Presidential Immunity from prosecution. Jack Smith filed an emergency appeal to SCOTUS who agreed to consider on an expedited basis whether to take up the case and Trump’s lawyers are required to file their response to the motion next week. Legal pundits seem to believe SCOTUS will decide quickly whether to formally hear the case and if so do so and rule quickly. The other possibility is that they might decide to send it down to the appellate court to consider first. Perhaps with a suggestion that THIS time the DC Circuit act with dispatch.

Either way, Judge Chutkan has decided to hit the proverbial pause button while the appeals process plays out.  Per Reuters: 

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said Trump’s ongoing appeal temporarily halts all activity that would move the case toward trial. Chutkan said she could still enforce her past rulings, including the gag order that limits Trump’s statements about prosecutors and witnesses, while the case is paused.

According to what I’m hearing from legal pundits judge Chutkan’s three page order does more than continue to enforce the gag order. It also requires Trump to obey all the conditions of his release. Even more important it prevents him/his lawyers from releasing any Discovery information that’s been handed over. Perhaps most importantly the trial slated to begin in March is still scheduled to do so should SCOTUS rule Trump has no claim to immunity from criminal prosecution.

The other big news is that SCOTUS has agreed to hear an appeal from a rank & file J6 defendant regarding the charge of Official Obstruction of a Public Proceeding. The Guardian has a nice explanation of this separate case. This could have wide ranging implications as hundred have been charged under the applicable statute. Alone among DC District Court Judges judge Nichols (hearing the case of former Boston police officer Joseph Fisher and two other defendants dismissed that charge, ruling that:

a defendant must have taken “some action with respect to a document, record or other object” to obstruct an official proceeding under the law

Prosecutors challenged that ruling and back in April the appeals court agreed judge Nichols interpretation of the statute was too limited. That ruling was appealed and now SCOTUS has decided to weigh in. Watching pundits discuss the case the issue that Fischer’s lawyer raised about documents and records is only part of the type of conduct that can obstruct a proceeding. They cited blocking doors and passageways for example are over acts that fall well within the “other conduct” language of the statute. So would chasing elected officials into hiding with chants of death threats, being part of a riot that did considerable damage to the Capitol and the very chamber where the electoral votes were being counted and trashing THAT while doing so! Sadly, the six Republicans on the current SCOTUS take a dim view of prosecutors broadly applying the law, unless of course it’s LE being out of control.

Still, a discussion I heard said that while this separate case might have implications for Trump’s own DC trial (since he’s also charged under that statute) there are factors that make Trump’s case different. So for now at least the March trial date holds.

There’s a lot that’s happened today and it will take time to break it all down so keep an eye out this evening and in the days ahead.

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  1. “a defendant must have taken “some action with respect to a document, record or other object” to obstruct an official proceeding under the law.

    “Object” qualifies. The object was the halls of Congress, and the defendants were illegally occupying it with the aim of obstructing the transfer of power that was supposed to be taking place that day. This is a slam dunk, if the Supremes are unbiased. Ha.

  2. How, I wonder, do you think that judge would describe someone blocking the judge from entering the courthouse or the courtroom itself?

    By Nichols’ own “reasoning,” it’s not going to be “obstruction.”

    At least until Nichols decides “hypocrisy” is a valid legal argument.

    • Articles about legal stuff can quickly get tedious and let’s face it, I’ve earned a rep. for getting too deep in the weeds and being boring or not focusing so I didn’t say much about judge Carl Nichols who made the ruling in question. Other than to note he’s the ONLY judge in the DC District Courts to take such a narrow view. His educational credential are quite solid, Dartmouth as an undergrad and Unv. of Chicago for law school. Top tier institutions.

      On the other hand there’s what he did afterwards including clerking for one Clarence Thomas! Yep. And you won’t need three guesses to know who nominated him to his position. He was one of so many conservative Federalist Society fire breathers McConnell put in front of Trump to nominate and then rammed through to confirmation by the then controlled by the GOP Senate. Gee,I wonder if like his mentor Thomas it’s in his DNA to protect Trump and Trumpers no matter what? Well DUH! He got slapped down by the court of appeals and while it’s hard to say what SCOTUS is inclined to do I’m not sure their taking the case indicates they will overturn the appellate court. This same defense is being attempted by hundreds of J6 defendants/convicts on this particular charge so maybe SCOTUS wants to avoid the black eye of creating legal bedlam. We know Thomas and Alito will vote to uphold judge Nichols initial ruling but getting three more votes will I think be a heavy lift. Even for a group of GOPer justices kind of hostile to “prosecutorial overreach.” (at least when a Republican is in trouble.)

      What’s more important is that while Trump is charged under the same statute in question the very issue judge Nichols used in his decision doesn’t apply in Trump’s case as there ARE documents and other records that were concealed so if Trump is pinning hopes on Fisher and others getting a break it’s unlikely he will rate the same break even from SCOTUS.


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