Here is some of the legal news making the headlines this week:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected former President Donald Trump’s bid to lift a gag order prohibiting him from criticizing witnesses in the federal election interference criminal prosecution.
- U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan instituted the gag order last October, following a request by special counsel Jack Smith. It restricts Trump’s ability to publicly attack witnesses in the case, prosecutors handling the matter (other than Smith), and court staff.
- Trump has criticized the gag order as an infringement on his First Amendment rights, but courts have disagreed. In December, a panel of D.C. Circuit Court judges rejected Trump’s appeal. Circuit Judge Patricia Millett, writing for the unanimous panel of three judges, wrote, “The court had a duty to act proactively to prevent the creation of an atmosphere of fear or intimidation aimed at preventing trial participants and staff from performing their functions within the trial process.”
- Trump then asked the full circuit court to review his challenge. In a brief order, the judges unanimously declined to reconsider the appeal and left in place the gag order. The group includes Trump’s three appointees to the court. Trump may now escalate the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would mark his last shot to lift the gag order.
The Supreme Court ruled that U.S. Border Patrol may cut Texas’s razor wire along the Rio Grande at the U.S.-Mexico border.
- Texas Governor Greg Abbott has repeatedly clashed with President Joe Biden about immigration policies. As part of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star initiative to crack down on the border, he ordered National Guard troops in Texas to install razor wire along a stretch of the Rio Grande in an attempt to block illegal entry into the United States. Since the wires were installed, three migrants, a woman and two children, have drowned in the area.
- Last October, Texas brought a lawsuit against the federal government, seeking to block Border Patrol agents from cutting the wires. The district court sided with Texas but did not bar Border Patrol from taking down or cutting the barriers while litigation continued. In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued an order that blocks Border Patrol agents from cutting or moving the wires, except in cases of medical emergencies, while the challenge proceeds.
- The Biden administration then asked the Supreme Court to intervene on an emergency basis. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote that the barriers “effectively prevent” Border Patrol agents “from monitoring the border to determine whether a migrant requires the emergency aid that the court of appeals expressly excepted from the injunction.” Prelogar argued that the justices should “restore Border Patrol’s access to the border it is charged with patrolling and the migrants it is responsible for apprehending, inspecting, and processing.” Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the Court’s liberal justices to grant Prelogar’s request. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh indicated that they would have denied the Biden administration’s request and left in place the lower court’s order.
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