Trump’s lawyer says the order violates free speech while judges say his rhetoric could threaten the integrity of his upcoming trial.
U.S. appeals court judges expressed skepticism over Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the former president’s silence in a federal criminal case in which he is accused of illegally attempted to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
It prohibits Trump from publicly slandering prosecutors, potential witnesses or court employees involved in the case.
Trump’s lawyer, Dr. John Sauer, argued Monday that the order violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech, while judges on the U.S. District Court of Appeals Columbia wondered whether Trump’s charged rhetoric would threaten the integrity of his upcoming trial.
“I don’t hear you giving any weight to the interests of a fair trial,” Judge Cornelia Pillard told Sauer.
Pillard is one of three judges who heard Trump’s appeal of the hush order imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the case.
Chutkan ruled that public statements by Trump or his lawyers criticizing prosecutors, court staff and potential witnesses could influence witnesses and lead to threats against those involved in the case.
But Chutkan allowed Trump to “criticize the Justice Department, President Biden and herself.” It also allowed him to argue that the lawsuits themselves constituted partisan retaliation against him,” the New York Times reported.
“This order is unprecedented and sets a terrible precedent for future restrictions on core political speech,” Sauer said during the two-hour hearing.
Trump, favored for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 election, has attacked officials involved in a series of criminal and civil cases he faces. He called U.S. special counsel Jack Smith, who brought the federal election-related charges, a “deranged lunatic” and a “thug.”
Trump’s remarks about prosecutors and witnesses pit his right to free speech against the need for a fair trial next year.
There was silence during Trump’s call. Trump has pleaded not guilty in that case as well as the three other criminal cases.
The justices asked Justice Department lawyer Cecil VanDevender whether the order was worded too broadly.
“We have to use a careful scalpel here,” said Judge Patricia Millett, appointed like the two other Democratic judges on the panel.
VanDevender said the order still allowed Trump to make general arguments about the integrity of the case.
“He can say, ‘This is a politically motivated lawsuit brought by my political opponent,’ and ‘The Justice Department is corrupt,’ and ‘I will be exonerated at trial,’ all of that,” VanDevender said.
The justices did not say when they would rule.