US District Judge Tanya Chutkan announced Friday that she was postponing the March 4 trial date Donald Trump‘s election interference case, as the former president’s claims of legal immunity have bogged down legal proceedings and prevented the case from moving forward.
The federal judge promised to set a new trial date “if and when” Trump’s legal claims are resolved by a three-judge panel in an appeals court, which heard oral arguments in the case in early January. During a press conference, the judge seemed to acknowledge that the case had thrown a wrench into her scheduling, saying that she did “not know what my schedule will be in mid-April.”
In the six months since Special Counsel Jack Smith handed down his indictment, it has been clear that Trump’s lawyers are angling to delay the trial until after November’s presidential election. If Trump wins before a ruling has been handed down, he can instruct his attorney general to dismiss any charges against him or seek a pardon for himself.
Chutkan set the March 4 trial date back in August, promising a “prompt and efficient resolution of this matter” and rebuffing Trump’s legal team’s demand for the trial to be held in 2026. But the Obama-appointed judge put the case on hold in December to allow Trump’s legal team to pursue its claim that the former president enjoys immunity from prosecution.
A DC appeals court took up the claim and moved quickly. But despite setting an extremely swift schedule—the panel told the defense and prosecution to file papers on successive Saturdays in late December and scheduled oral argument for January 9—it has yet to reach a verdict, although it has signaled skepticism of the immunity argument. Even if it does hand down a decision rejecting Trump’s claims, his legal team will likely appeal again, further adding to delays.
“It is surprising, given how quickly they moved to have this appeal briefed and argued, for the court to not yet have issued a decision,” University of Texas at Austin law professor Stephen Vladeck customs The New York Times. “It’s surprising both just because of how fast they moved and because of the broader timing considerations in this case — both the March 4 trial date and the looming specter of the election.”
Vladeck added that the court—composed of two Biden appointees and one George HW Bush appointee—may be taking its time to reach a unanimous decision and avoid the public perception of division on such a crucial legal matter.
The move is a blow to the team of federal prosecutors who have consistently pressed for as early a trial date as possible. Smith’s office asked the Supreme Court in December to fast-track Trump’s immunity case, but the court quickly rejected the request, handing a significant victory to Trump.
One consequence of Chutkan’s decision is that the first of Trump’s four criminal cases to appear before a jury is more likely to be his New York state trial on charges of illegally arranging hush payments to porn stars Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election. That trial is currently scheduled for March 25.