Judges Hear Arguments Over Trump Gag Order

Donald Trump | Image by Evan El-Amin

A U.S. appeals court heard arguments on Monday for a request from Donald Trump’s lawyers to remove a gag order issued in a lawsuit that alleges the former president attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments by lawyers from both the defense and prosecution.

Judge Patricia Millet and Judge Cornelia Pillard were each nominated to their seats by former President Barack Obama, while Judge Bradley Garcia was nominated by President Joe Biden, per CNBC.

Lawyers for Trump wrote in a filing on Friday that U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, the judge who issued the gag order, is attempting to insert herself into the trial and that the order is a breach of Trump’s First Amendment rights.

“The district court had no business inserting itself into the Presidential election, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses. The First Amendment does not permit the district court to micromanage President Trump’s core political speech, nor to dictate what speech is sufficiently ‘general’ and what speech is too ‘targeted’ for the court’s liking,” Trump’s team wrote in the filing, according to CNN.

“Silencing a Presidential candidate’s core political speech at the height of his political campaign is ‘the essence of censorship.'”

Attorneys working for special counsel Jack Smith, who is overseeing the federal prosecution, pushed back on the claims that the order violates Trump’s First Amendment rights, 

They argued that the order is necessary since the former president has sent out “near-daily” threats against Chutkan, Smith, and other potential witnesses, as reported by The New York Times.

Cecil VanDevender, an attorney for the prosecution, said that his office has “been subject to multiple threats” and “intimidating communication” following “inflammatory posts” from Trump about the special counsel, according to NBC News.

Millet pressed the special counsel about how the gag order balances Trump’s First Amendment rights, stating that the counsel’s argument “doesn’t seem to give much balance at all to the First Amendment’s vigorous protection of political speech and the notion that high profile public figures or governmental officials who’ve taken on enormous responsibility like prosecutors can’t stand up to some inflammatory language.”

“It seems to me to contradict Supreme Court precedent and seems to me sort of a very troubling lack of balance on a free speech side on the part of prosecution in this case,” she said, according to CNN.

Throughout the hearing, multiple judges expressed the belief that the gag order could remain in place but must be narrowed down in some capacity.

Chutkan issued the order last month, which prevents Trump from making public statements about the special prosecutors and any other “reasonably foreseeable” witnesses who may be called to testify, as reported by CNBC.

The order was imposed due to concerns that statements from the former president posed “sufficiently grave threats to the integrity of these proceedings.”

Pillard said during the hearing that the ruling “can’t be that he can’t mention Mr. Smith” and that a case this well-known requires Smith to have “thick enough skin” and push past some of the criticism, per CNN.

Millet added that a middle ground must be carved out with a “careful scalpel” to prevent “skewing the political arena,” according to CNBC.

The three-judge panel did not say when it would come to a final decision.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the alleged crimes being addressed in this trial, which is expected to begin in March 2024.

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