Appeals court upholds Trump gag order in New York hush money trial News
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Appeals court upholds Trump gag order in New York hush money trial

The New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division upheld a gag order Tuesday against former president Donald Trump in a criminal case centering on allegations he falsified the Trump Organization’s business records to conceal hush money payments to influence the 2016 presidential election. The appeals court was unpersuaded by Trump’s arguments that the gag order violates his First Amendment right to free speech.

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan entered the gag order against Trump in late March, preventing the defendant from disparaging potential witnesses, prosecutors (other than Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg), and potential jurors in his trial. Merchan expanded the gag order in April after Trump attacked the justice’s daughter, who is a Democratic political consultant. Trump has twice been held in contempt for violating the order, leading Merchan to threaten the defendant with jail time.

In its ruling, the appeals court held that Merchan properly balanced Trump’s right to free speech with the need to protect participants in the trial. Citing a federal court’s previous refusal to overturn a separate gag order in Trump’s election interference case, the New York court reasoned that “courts have a duty to shield witnesses from influences that could affect their testimony and undermine the integrity of the trial process” as well as a duty to protect court staff. Applying this principle, the appeals court held that “Justice Merchan properly determined that petitioner’s public statements posed a significant threat to the integrity of the testimony of witnesses and potential witnesses in this case[.]”

Merchan most recently threatened the former president with incarceration last week over an April interview answer which the justice ruled impugned the jury and therefore violated the gag order. In the answer at issue, Trump said:

You know [the judge is] rushing the trial like crazy. Nobody’s ever seen a thing go like this. That jury was picked so fast — 95 [percent] democrats. The area’s mostly all democrat. You think of it as a — just a purely democrat area. It’s a very unfair situation that I can tell you.

Trump was also fined $9,000 last month for nine since-deleted posts and reposts made on his social media platform Truth Social.

Previously, federal Judge Tanya Chutkan entered a gag order against Trump in October due to Truth Social posts that prosecutors in Trump’s election interference case said intimidated prosecutors and attacked witnesses. A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit refused to vacate Chutkan’s order in December, and the full court declined to hold a rehearing in January.