Judge in Trump case declines to impose gag order, citing First Amendment

 April 4, 2023

The judge overseeing the criminal case against Donald Trump declined to impose a gag order during Trump's arraignment in Manhattan. 

Trump's lawyers had warned that they anticipated Judge Juan Merchan to take the unprecedented step of silencing a presidential candidate, but the judge stepped back from the brink Tuesday and unexpectedly acknowledged Trump's First Amendment rights.

A gag order would have legally barred Trump from defending himself in the court of public opinion against what many view as a politically motivated, tyrannical prosecution.

Trump was released on his own recognizance before returning to Mar-A-Lago Tuesday evening, where he gave a speech dismissing the case from George Soros-backed prosecutor Alvin Bragg as a political witch hunt.

No gag order for Trump

It wasn't clear until the arraignment Tuesday afternoon that Trump would be permitted to give the scheduled remarks.

"The only crime I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it," he said.

Trump had earlier vocalized his dismay with the "surreal" turn of events as he headed to the courthouse in lower Manhattan, where he pled not guilty to 34 felony counts for "falsifying business records."

The indictment was met with immediate and widespread skepticism after it was unsealed Tuesday. The case, which federal prosecutors previously declined to pursue, stems from years-old hush money payments during Trump's 2016 campaign.

Banana republic

The indictment has caused Republicans to rally behind Trump in the 2024 primary, but the impact of the case on Trump's political future remains unclear. Even if he is not convicted, the case will likely interfere with Trump's ability to run a presidential campaign.

Judge Merchan acknowledged concerns during Tuesday's arraignment that a gag order would have restricted the First Amendment rights of a presidential candidate.

The judge said he would not have issued a gag order even if prosecutors had requested one, which they did not.

But Merchan appeared to leave the door open to a gag order in the future, warning Trump not to incite unrest on social media after prosecutors complained about Trump's online rhetoric.

Trump's campaign had warned Monday that silencing a presidential candidate would be a "tyrannical, third-world country move," and his lawyers said they would fight any effort to deprive Trump of his rights under color of law.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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