Judge Clarence Thomas agreed on Monday temporarily freeze a lower court order requiring Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to testify before a special Atlanta-area grand jury investigating efforts to nullify the state’s 2020 presidential election.
Thomas acted alone because he has jurisdiction over the lower court that made the original order.
Thomas’ decision is an administrative stay that was most likely issued on Monday to give Supreme Court justices more time to consider the dispute.
The court demanded a response from Georgian investigators by Thursday.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat, is leading a special grand jury investigation into Donald Trump-aligned efforts to manipulate Georgia’s 2020 election results. She indicated that she would like to ask Graham about the calls he made to election officials in Georgia after the election.
Republican Senator from South Carolina argues that such testimony is estopped by the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution, which protects legislators from certain law enforcement actions for conduct related to their legislative duties.
A Fulton County spokesperson declined to comment on Thomas’ decision to suspend the subpoena. CNN has contacted representatives for Graham.
Lower courts had said that to the extent Graham was calling on Georgia election officials as part of fact-finding for Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s victory, it could be off limits under the Constitution. But the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals had stated that “communications and coordination with the Trump campaign regarding its post-election efforts in Georgia, public statements regarding the 2020 election, and efforts to ‘cajole’ or ‘urge’ Georgia election officials” are not not legislative activities protected by the Speech and Debate Clause.
The Willis investigation recently obtained grand jury testimony from former Georgia Republican senator Kelly Loeffler and former White House attorney Pat Cipollone, CNN reported last week.
The Fulton County investigation was launched to examine then-President Trump’s January 2021 hour-long phone call to Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asking the chief election officer to “find the votes needed for Trump to win the state. The investigation now encompasses several other aspects of the Trump world’s machinations to reverse his loss in Georgia, including presentations of unsubstantiated voter fraud allegations to state lawmakers, the bogus voter scheme, efforts by unauthorized people to access voting machines in a Georgia county, and a campaign of threats and harassment against lower-level election workers, CNN reported.
Litigation over whether Graham can be compelled to testify before the special grand jury has been unfolding since the summer.
Graham turned to the Supreme Court for intervention on Friday. He told judges in court papers that his phone calls with Georgian officials were related to the “imminent vote on election certification” and because, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, he was responsible for “examining matters relating to the elections”. .”
However, the senator also argued before the High Court that his motives were irrelevant to the protections the Constitution affords lawmakers for legislative conduct,
“The apparent suspicions of the district court and the district attorney regarding the motives are unfounded, but even assuming otherwise, the speech or debate clause was designed to prevent exactly that kind of scrutiny,” he said. -he writes. He added that a lower court was “also wrong to think that any other line of hypothetical questioning would be allowed”.
Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and University of Texas Law School professor, said Monday’s order does not mean Graham will never appear before the grand jury.
“These types of ‘administrative stays’ don’t predict how the whole court, or even the judge who issued it, is likely to vote,” Vladeck said, noting a recent, separate case in which an order of A lower court of Judge Sonia Sotomayor was finally allowed to go into effect after a brief break so the judges could reflect.
“The bigger question is how the full court will rule, and today’s order tells us nothing about the answer,” he added.
This story has been updated with additional details.