A D.C. judge’s gag order on former President Donald Trump is likely to be upheld but limited by a three-judge appellate court panel, according to legal experts. The gag order was imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan in Trump’s criminal D.C. election interference case, prohibiting him from targeting court staff, special counsel Jack Smith’s staff, and potential witnesses. The order was temporarily paused while Trump’s legal team appealed, but it was ultimately reinstated due to concerns that Trump was using the pause to target witnesses in social media posts.
In her ruling, Judge Chutkan stated that the First Amendment rights of participants in criminal proceedings must give way to the orderly administration of justice. Trump’s attorneys argue that the gag order infringes upon his First Amendment rights, while Smith’s team of prosecutors argue that Trump’s social media activity since the order was put in place shows a pattern of targeting witnesses and court staff.
During the hearing, Trump’s lawyer, John Sauer, claimed that the gag order sets a dangerous precedent and is unconstitutional. He argued that the order infringes upon Trump’s core political speech and that there is no imminent danger that justifies it. Sauer also argued against the use of a “heckler’s veto” by the government and the judge to suppress Trump’s speech.
The panel of judges appeared skeptical of Trump’s position on the gag order, stating that committing criminal witness intimidation should not be a requirement for the order to be imposed. Legal experts noted that the judges seemed inclined to narrow the order but uphold its overall purpose.
Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal tweeted that the arguments were not going well for Trump, and that Sauer was struggling to answer the judges’ questions. Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, argued that Sauer was taking an extreme position and that the judges were considering whether to modify the order or support it with factual findings.
Overall, it seems that the appellate court panel is likely to uphold the gag order on Trump but may limit its scope. The final decision will have significant implications for Trump’s ability to engage in political speech and the boundaries of free speech in criminal proceedings.