Opinion | Don't automatically overrule the judge in the Trump documents case (2023)


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Opinion | Don't automatically overrule the judge in the Trump documents case (1)

WithNick Ackerman

Mr. Ackerman was a prosecutor on the Watergate Task Force.

Judge Eileen Cannon, who was randomly assigned to preside over the prosecution of Donald Trump in the classified documents case, has come under intense scrutiny from the left. Some point out that she was appointed to her position by Mr Atou. Others point to her actions last year, when she stopped an investigation into documents that ruled in his favor when he challenged the F.B.I. at her Mar-a-Lago resort — before an appeals court ruled she never had the legal authority to intervene.

Critics have called for her denial because they fear it could sabotage the prosecution by giving Trump undue delays and favorable evidentiary rulings.

These concerns are overblown and only contribute to the dangerous view that the federal judiciary is politicized. Recent court history on many levels proves that even someone like Mr Trump does not get special favors – and the Mar-a-Lago outcome would seem more legitimate under such a system.

Furthermore, Justice Cannon is a qualified jurist and deserves the benefit of the doubt. He graduated with highest honors from a top law school, the University of Michigan. He clerked for a federal appeals court judge and then worked for a well-respected law firm before serving as an assistant US attorney in Florida.

The fact that it was nominated by Mr. Trump does not necessarily make it biased. Presidents appoint all federal judges, but the actual selection process is much more complicated and much further away from the president than many people realize. After a formal search process, most federal judges are appointed by their U.S. senators, in this case Marco Rubio of Florida, following recommendations from an advisory panel.

There is no known evidence to suggest that Judge Cannon had a personal relationship with Mr. Trump or worked on any of his campaigns, circumstances that could be grounds for denial. The American Bar Association called her "qualified" by a substantial majority and "well qualified" by a minority. In the Senate, her judgeship was confirmed by a vote of 56 to 21, a healthy bipartisan majority.

He is a member of the Federal Society, as are six of the nine judges of the Federal Supreme Court. Membership in the Federated Society was an informal credential required to get a court appointment from Trump. But he showed no evidence of the kind of hardline ideological views held by someone like Matthew Kacsmaryk, the judge in the Northern District of Texas who overturned the FDA's longstanding approval of an abortion pill.

Criticism of Judge Cannon stems primarily from her decision to appoint a special master to review documents seized during last year's FBI raid. to look for. Her rulings were a big mistake, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rebuked her for those mistakes in two separate rulings. In finding that it had improperly appointed a special master, the three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit — two of whom were also appointed by Trump — made clear that “creating a special exception” for a former president “would challenge the foundations of our nation. ." principle that our law applies "to all, regardless of number, wealth or social position."

In other words, the committee reprimanded her for failing to properly apply the law and for failing to treat Mr. Trump like any other criminal defendant.

Other legal experts have questioned whether Judge Cannon has the judicial skills to handle a case of this type and size. After all, he's only been a federal judge for two and a half years and has never tried a case involving the theft of confidential documents.

For example, Samuel Buell, a Duke University law professor and former federal prosecutor,thesethat "she's a very inexperienced judge, so even if she wasn't favorable to Trump, she can hear a lot of things and think she's hearing unusual things, even though they happen all the time."

While concerns about her judgment and ability to handle the case are understandable, there is nothing Judge Cannon has said or written that suggests such bias toward Republicans or blindness to justice that she should be completely disqualified from a case that it's about Trump. The health and independence of our judiciary depends, in part, on judges learning from incidents like this and, in her case, on showing that they will not deviate from the proper application of the law to Mr. Trump as they will so did every other criminal defendant.

History shows that Trump's judicial appointees did not give him special treatment when he challenged the rule of law.Almost all the judges appointed by Trump(including his Supreme Court nominees) have denied Trump's attempts to add to his lie that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. The same concern—that Republican-appointed judges would rule in favor of a member of their party—was expressed during Watergate. The prosecutors investigating the theft and cover-up, including myself, were well aware of concerns that the Supreme Court, which sits on four justices appointed by President Richard Nixon, would refuse to order him to release the Oval Office tapes to special supporter. . The court, however, unanimously (with one judge dissenting) ordered Nixon to do so.

Judge Cannon's inexperience puts even more pressure on Special Counsel Jack Smith and his team: They will have to work harder to provide the judge with more legal context through motions and legal briefs than would normally be done with a more experienced lawyer. Mr. Smith and his team are certainly up to the task.

Judge Cannon also may not be the only court official deciding the case. Under federal rules, Judge Cannon may assign a decision or decisions on some or all of the pretrial motions to the trial judge. Judge Cannon has the final say on the judge's rulings, but they are usually rarely overturned by the district court judge.

The judge assigned to this case, Bruce E. Reinhart, is an experienced attorney and jurist. He was in office for about five years, was an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida for 12 years, a trial attorney in the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Division for eight years and practiced private law for 10 years, according to his federal court filing. biography. (On Tuesday, Jonathan Goodman was the judge of Mr. Trump's appearance, but he isunexpectedremain involved in the case.)

If Judge Cannon makes an error that precludes Trump from being treated like any other federal defendant, Smith, armed with previous 11th Circuit rulings, has the right to try to replace her.

The indictment against Mr. Trump is a carefully crafted prosecution that unequivocally alleges facts, if proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be true, that warrant conviction. The evidence presented in the indictment implicates not only Mr. Trump for protecting our nation's most valuable secrets, but also his deliberately orchestrated scheme, using his attorney and subordinates, to prevent the government from obtaining the secrets documents recovered despite a search warrant.

After all, if Mr. Trump is convicted, it better happen before one of his running mates. This will go a long way to quell Trump and his supporters' false claims of a "witch hunt" and politicized prosecution.

Nick Ackerman (@nickakerman), a lawyer in New York, was an assistant special counsel on the Watergate special prosecution force.

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