Judges considering narrower gag order for Trump in Georgia election interference case

 November 25, 2023

It's been interesting how prosecutors who accuse former President Donald Trump of election interference in 2020 are doing exactly what they accuse him of doing by trying to limit what he is allowed to say about the case.

After pausing a gag order requested by Special Prosecutor Jack Smith and imposed by Judge Tanya Chutkan, the appeals court apparently has some issues with the way both are attempting to shut Trump up as he tries to defend himself and campaign for president. 

It seems like the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals is leaning toward a narrowing of the gag order, judging from comments the appeals court judges made about the case while questioning both sides during oral arguments on Monday.

"He has to speak 'Miss Manners' while everyone else is throwing targets at him?" Judge Patricia Millett asked Smith lawyer Cecil VanDevender. "It would be really hard in a debate when everyone else is going at you full bore. Your attorneys would have to have scripted little things you can say."

"A careful scalpel"

"There's a balance that has to be undertaken here, and it's a very difficult balance in this context," she said. "But we have to use a careful scalpel here and not step into really sort of skewing the political arena, don't we?"

The panel seemed to suggest that it would keep some sort of gag order in place, but that it might not include Smith or other prosecutors.

Trump has called Smith "deranged" more than once and characterized him as Trump-hating and biased against the former president.

A big part of Trump's defense is that he is being targeted because he is President Joe Biden's chief rival and they want to knock him out of the race (although all efforts to do so have backfired).

Gagging him only proves his point.

Too broad

Even the ACLU--no fans of Trump--argued that the gag order is too broad, and prevents Trump from speaking his mind about Smith and the case.

"The entire order hinges on the meaning of the word 'target,'" the ACLU wrote. "But that meaning is ambiguous, and fails to provide the fair warning that the Constitution demands, especially when, as here, it concerns a prior restraint on speech."

The appeals court has not yet issued a ruling on the gag order, and has not said when that will happen.

It is also not clear what will happen if Trump violates the gag order.

In a civil case against him in New York that has also imposed a gag order, Trump was fined $10,000 for violating the order twice, but in the criminal case, he could be put in jail for a violation. Imagine how that could impact the election.

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