WASHINGTON – Donald Trump has confronted judges, disparaged opponents and giving hallway speeches during recent trials, employing his legal battles as an extension of his presidential campaign.
But don’t expect provocations and off-the-cuff drama when the Supreme Court hears arguments Thursday about whether Trump should be on Colorado’s ballot.
Trump, who has shown up at two of his civil trials recently, hasn’t announced whether he’ll attend the Supreme Court arguments, scheduled for the same day as Nevada’s GOP presidential caucuses. But the high court updated its rules in 2013 to codify the practice that only lawyers can present arguments.
The justices sometimes get a spectacle. When Larry Flynt, publisher of the pornographic Hustler magazine, was blocked from arguing his own case decades earlier, he shouted obscenities at the justices and was ejected. Protesters have been arrested in rare outbursts inside the courtroom.
This kind of bombast isn’t expected Thursday. The high court conducts its arguments much more strictly than the lower courts do − making it less likely Trump will be the star of a similar courthouse drama.
At the lower courts, a New York judge scolded Trump for giving campaign speeches from the witness stand in one trial. In another, a federal judge threatened to eject him for making disparaging comments about his opponent that could be heard by the jury. And that was before Trump marched out on his opponent’s closing arguments.
No ‘open mic night’ at Supreme Court
Decorum at the Supreme Court also dictates a somber setting. Audience members have been arrested in rare protests inside the chamber. Three women – Emily Paterson, Nicole Enfield and Rolande Baker – were charged in November 2022 for protesting an abortion decision.
After court convened, Paterson, seated in the south side of the chamber, stood up and shouted a denunciation of the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Police escorted her out. Then Baker, seated in the north side, stood and shouted for women to vote. After she was escorted out, Enfield in the center back stood and loudly urged a restoration of a woman’s right to choose.
Each of the three pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to nearly six months’ probation. The maximum penalty under the statute was 60 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“The defendants’ actions severely undermined the respect and reverence our highest court deserves,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said in a court filing. “Were such conduct allowed to go unpunished, the court would quickly cease to be a place where the most important legal disputes in our nation are adjudicated under procedures enacted to ensure fairness and, instead, become a sort of ‘open mic night’ for citizens to voice their personal views.”
Appeals court upholds law against disturbing Supreme Court with a ‘harangue’ or ‘oration’
Five people – Belinda Rodriguez, Matthew Kresling, Yasmina Mrabet, Richard Saffle and David Bronstein – were charged in 2015 after standing one at a time and either shouting or singing to protest a previous campaign-finance decision. Their message on April Fool’s Day was for the justices to ensure free and fair elections.
After the fourth protester – Saffle – was escorted out, Chief Justice John Roberts warned the audience against further demonstrations.
“Anyone else interested in talking will be admonished that it’s within the authority of this court to punish such disturbances by criminal contempt,” Roberts said.
The five protesters challenged the charge that they disrupted the court with a “harangue” or “oration” as unconstitutionally vague. A federal judge agreed.
But the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law, ruling that a “harangue” or “oration” disturb the court.
“This core meaning is delivering speeches of various kinds to persons within the Supreme Court’s building and grounds, in a manner that threatens to disturb the operations and decorum of the court,” the three-judge panel said.
Larry Flynt booted from court, still won case
The late Flynt, who referred to himself as the “King of Smut,” challenged First Amendment boundaries repeatedly – and won a landmark Supreme Court decision despite his behavior.
His December 1987 hearing appealed the verdict in a lawsuit by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell over an advertising parody in Hustler. The ad suggested Falwell had an incestuous relationship with his mother.
Falwell sued successfully in federal court for libel and emotional distress and won $150,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.
Flynt was kicked out of his own argument at the Supreme Court after shouting obscenities at the justices.
“The First Amendment is supposed to protect offensive speech,” Flynt told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998. “If you’re not going to offend anybody, you don’t need the First Amendment.”
The Supreme Court voted 8-0 for Flynt and threw out the verdict. The court ruled public figures couldn’t collect damages for a “patently offensive” parody that reasonable people would never consider factual.
“Were we to hold otherwise, there can be little doubt that political cartoonists and satirists would be subjected to damages awards without any showing that their work falsely defamed its subject,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote.
Trump appearances in lower courts drew rebukes
The high court promises a much more subdued arena than Trump’s two recent civil trials.
In a civil fraud trial, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, who presided over the state trial, fined Trump a combined $15,000 for violating gag orders against criticizing his clerk in internet posts.
Engoron also beseeched Trump’s lawyer to control his client during testimony, saying “this is not a political rally.”
In the federal defamation case, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan warned Trump against conferring with his lawyers loudly enough to be heard by the jury.
“You just can’t control yourself in this circumstance, apparently,” Kaplan told Trump.
The judge threatened to throw out Trump after he repeatedly made comments disparaging Carroll’s testimony.
“Mr. Trump, I hope I don’t have to consider excluding you from the trial,” Kaplan said. “I understand you’re probably eager for me to do that.”
“I would love it,” Trump responded.
Trump stood up and walked out on the closing argument of Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan. The jury later ordered him to pay Carroll $83.3 million, a decision he vowed to appeal.
For his part, Trump has expressed optimism in the court. He appointed three of the nine members: Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
“Hopefully this will be an easy decision,” Trump said Jan. 18 in an all-caps social media post, referring to another case expected to reach the high court about whether he is immune from criminal prosecution. “God bless the Supreme Court!”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why Supreme Court appeal will be no ‘open mic night’ for Donald Trump