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New York's top court declines to hear Trump's appeal of the gag order in his hush money case

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower, May 31, 2024, in New York. Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower, May 31, 2024, in New York.
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New York’s top court on Tuesday declined to hear Donald Trump’s gag order appeal in his hush money case, leaving the restrictions in place following his felony conviction last month. The Court of Appeals found that the order does not raise “substantial” constitutional issues that would warrant an immediate intervention.

The decision is the latest legal setback for the Republican former U.S. president, who has repeatedly railed against a gag order that prevents him from commenting on witnesses, jurors and others who were involved in the case. But it could be short lived. The trial judge, Juan M. Merchan, is expected to rule soon on a defense request to lift the gag order.

A Trump campaign spokesperson, Steven Cheung, said Tuesday the ex-president's legal team would “continue to fight against the unconstitutional Gag Order imposed by Justice Merchan.”

Trump’s attorneys filed a notice of appeal with the state’s high court on May 15, during the former president’s landmark criminal trial. They argued that the gag order restricted Trump’s “core political speech on matters of central importance at the height of his Presidential campaign.”

But the Court of Appeals disagreed. In a decision list posted on Tuesday, the court said it would not automatically hear the case, writing that “no substantial constitutional question is directly involved.”

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks during his campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nev. on June 9, 2024. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Trump’s lawyers were essentially seeking a shortcut to expedite their appeal, which was rejected by the state’s mid-level appeals court last month. They now have 30 days to file a motion for leave to appeal, according to court spokesperson Gary Spencer.

Merchan imposed the gag order on March 26, a few weeks before the start of the trial, after prosecutors raised concerns about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s tendency to attack people involved in his cases.

During the trial, Merchan held Trump in contempt of court and fined him $10,000 for violating the gag order. The judge threatened to put Trump in jail if he did it again.

The order remains in effect weeks after the conclusion of the trial, which ended with Trump’s conviction on 34 counts of falsifying business records arising from what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election. Daniels claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier, which he denies. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 11.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office had urged the Court of Appeals to reject the appeal. In their own letter, prosecutors noted the question about whether the order should be lifted could be dealt with through post-trial court filings.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that he should be entitled to fully address the case, given the continued public criticism of him by his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen and Daniels, both key prosecution witnesses.

Days after the verdict, they sent a letter to Merchan asking him to lift the gag order. They followed up last week with a formal motion requesting that the restrictions be rescinded. Prosecutors have until Thursday to respond. Merchan is expected to rule soon after that, possibly before Trump’s June 27 debate with U.S. President Joe Biden.

“It’s a little bit of the theatre of the absurd at this point, right? Michael Cohen is no longer a witness in this trial,” an attorney for Trump, Todd Blanche, told the AP earlier this month. “The trial is over.”

A spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

AP writer Michael Hill contributed reporting from Altamont, N.Y. 

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