Updated Apr 4, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Georgia judge rejects Trump's 1st Amendment challenge to election case

Former President Trump speaking in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on April 2.

Former President Trump speaking in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on April 2. Photo: Daniel Steinle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Georgia judge on Thursday rejected former President Trump's attempt to get the state's election-racketeering case against him dismissed based on First Amendment claims.

Why it matters: It's a loss for the former president and the presumed Republican presidential nominee in arguably the most damaging of the four criminal cases against him. While no trial date has been set, it's still moving forward.

Catch up quick: Lawyers for Trump recently argued that the former president can't be charged because his denials and challenges to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election were protected by his right to free speech, even if they were false.

  • Lawyers for the former president and Trump's 14 co-defendants in the case made similar arguments.
  • Thursday's rejection of that argument comes on the heels of Fulton County Superior Court judge Scott McAfee dismissing six counts in the indictment, including three against the former president.

What they're saying: McAfee ruled that First Amendment protections do not shield Trump or the other defendants in the case because the indictment alleges that their statements were made "in furtherance of criminal activity."

  • "In other words, the law does not insulate speech allegedly made during fraudulent or criminal conduct from prosecution under the guise of petitioning the government," McAfee wrote.
  • "The defense has not presented, nor is the Court able to find, any authority that the speech and conduct alleged is protected political speech," he added.

The other side: "President Trump and other defendants respectfully disagree with Judge McAfee's order and will continue to evaluate their options regarding the First Amendment challenges," Steve Sadow, lead counsel for Trump in the Georgia case, said in a statement.

  • "It is significant that the court's ruling was without prejudice, as it made clear that defendants were not foreclosed from again raising their 'as-applied challenges at the appropriate time after the establishment of a factual record," he added.

Zoom out: McAfee last month ruled that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis could remain on the case after Trump and the other defendants attempted to get her removed over allegation of financial impropriety.

  • However, McAfee said Willis remaining on the case depended on the special prosecutor she hired and had a romantic relationship with stepping down, which he did.
  • Trump and his co-defendants appealed that ruling.

The big picture: If Willis is removed, the case would likely be derailed and the trial's start date would likely be pushed back past the 2024 election.

  • Prosecutors have proposed that the case go to trial on Aug. 5.

Go deeper: Trump trials timeline: Jan. 6, Georgia and classified docs cases in limbo

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the latest.

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