In a dramatic showdown on Monday, Donald Trump’s attorney, John Sauer, faced off against a panel of three appeals court judges, all of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents. Sauer was fighting to overturn the partial gag order imposed on the former president in his 2020 election subversion case. The judges didn’t deliver an immediate ruling but made it clear through their questioning that they were not eager to completely scrap the order.
— New York Post (@nypost) November 20, 2023
Sauer fiercely argued that the gag order infringed upon Trump’s First Amendment rights, emphasizing how it could impact his potential 2024 presidential campaign. He described the order as unprecedented and cautioned that it could set a dangerous precedent for limiting vital political speech in the future. But the judges grilled Sauer on whether the gag order would still be unconstitutional if the situation had occurred a year ago, to which he staunchly maintained that it would.
The initial gag order, issued by US District Judge Tanya Chutkan, restricts Trump from targeting individuals involved in his trial and specifically prohibits him from targeting the special counsel, court personnel, or any potential witnesses. Chutkan defended her decision, stating that it was necessary to ensure the proper administration of justice. The special counsel, Jack Smith, had requested the gag order, citing Trump’s social media posts as evidence of his intent to intimidate and harass individuals involved in the case.
The judges also questioned the special counsel’s assistant, Cecil VanDevender, but appeared to be less skeptical of the gag order. However, they expressed concerns about the breadth of the restrictions and whether they contradicted Supreme Court precedent. VanDevender argued that Trump’s history of using his public platform to target adversaries posed a significant risk to the fairness and integrity of the proceedings.
Throughout the hearing, Judge Patricia Millett, an Obama appointee, was particularly vocal, focusing on the potential implications of the gag order and how it applied to Trump’s criticisms of public figures beyond the election case. Her fellow judges, Nina Pillard and Bradley Garcia, also contributed to the rigorous questioning.
Trump’s appeal has garnered support from the American Civil Liberties Union, the conservative group America First Legal, and several Republican state attorneys general who joined in advocating for the gag order to be eliminated.
The court’s hesitation to entirely lift the gag order has highlighted the polarizing nature of the case and the intense scrutiny surrounding Trump’s actions and statements. As the legal battle continues, the outcome could have far-reaching implications for the boundaries of political speech and the rights of high-profile public figures.