WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to decide whether former President Donald Trump can claim presidential immunity over criminal election interference charges, adding a new hurdle to a trial taking place.

The court in a brief order said it would hear arguments and issue a ruling on the immunity claim. In the meantime, the case is on hold, meaning no trial can take place. 

The order said the court would hear the case the week of April 22.

The case could take months to resolve.

The legal question the court will decide is “whether and if so to what extent does a former president enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office,” the order said.

Even if Trump loses, the trial would not take place until well into election season. If Trump were to win in a ruling, the charges would be dismissed.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against Trump on Feb. 6 but gave him time to file an emergency request at the Supreme Court that would prevent the decision from going into effect.

“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” the appeals court ruling said. 

That court did not directly decide whether Trump was engaged in “official acts” when he was contesting the election results.

Trump’s lawyers have pointed to a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that endorsed presidential immunity from civil lawsuits when the underlying conduct concerns actions within the “outer perimeter” of the president’s official responsibilities. They have conceded that a former president can be prosecuted for conduct unrelated to official acts.

Washington-based U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan had originally scheduled the trial for March. It is one of four criminal cases that Trump is contesting.

If Trump wins the election, he would be in a position to order that the charges in the Washington case be dismissed. If already convicted at that point, he could seek to pardon himself.

Trump’s lawyers say that presidents should have total immunity for official acts as president and that his actions in questioning the election results were part of his official duties. Among the legal questions lurking in his case is whether Trump’s attempts to interfere in the election constitute official acts.

If Trump’s prosecution is allowed, then “such prosecutions will recur and become increasingly common, ushering in destructive cycles of recrimination,” his lawyers wrote in his Supreme Court filing.

Special counsel Jack Smith, who is prosecuting the case, said in his own court papers that it was imperative the issue get decided quickly.

“Delay in the resolution of these charges threatens to frustrate the public interest in a speedy and fair verdict — a compelling interest in every criminal case and one that has unique national importance here,” he wrote.

The Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority, with three Trump appointees. Despite the court’s ideological make-up, Trump has lost several recent cases.

On Feb. 8, the justices heard arguments in a separate Trump-related case on the former president’s attempt to avoid being kicked off the ballot in Colorado. In that case, the court seems likely to rule in his favor.

Trump’s immunity claim was prompted by a four-count indictment in Washington, including charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. He has pleaded not guilty.

Chutkan in December rejected Trump’s plea to dismiss the indictment on presidential immunity and other constitutional grounds.

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