Appeals court panel appears critical of Trump gag order in D.C. case

The prosecution has suggested that public attacks from Trump could intimidate witnesses or invite retaliation against the prosecutors bringing the case.

Published: November 20, 2023 5:05pm

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals hinted it may limit the scope of a gag order against former President Donald Trump by the judge overseeing his indictment on conspiracy charges related to his efforts to challenge the 2020 presidential election results.

Judge Tanya Chutkan issued the initial gag order as part of special counsel Jack Smith's ongoing case. Smith has charged Trump with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, threatening constitutional rights, conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, and obstruction of an official proceeding. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Chutkan's order barred Trump from attacking herself, court staff, the prosecution, and witnesses. The appeals court heard arguments over the order on Monday and the judges signaled some skepticism of the order's parameters.

Judge Patricia Millett, for instance, expressed concerns that the order would effectively prevent Trump from discussing a pertinent issue during the 2024 presidential campaign.

"He has to speak 'Miss Manners' while everyone else is throwing targets at him?" she asked, according to Politico. "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."

Judge Nina Pillard, meanwhile, suggested that the testimony of prominent government officials would likely "not be affected" by any public criticisms Trump made.

Trump's team has contended that the order constitutes an unconstitutional limitation of his First Amendment rights, writing in their request to the appeals court that "The prosecution’s request for a Gag Order bristles with hostility to President Trump’s viewpoint and his relentless criticism of the government—including of the prosecution itself."

"The Gag Order embodies this unconstitutional hostility to President Trump’s viewpoint. It should be immediately stayed," they wrote earlier this month. The prosecution, meanwhile, has suggested that public attacks from Trump could intimidate witnesses or invite retaliation against the prosecutors bringing the case.

While the justices expressed skepticism of the order, Millett hinted that the court may opt to limit its scope rather than eliminate it outright, saying the court needed to "use a careful scalpel here," per Politico.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter.

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