During a hearing, a federal appeals court in Washington hinted that it intends to maintain some form of the gag order on former President Donald Trump in the criminal case against him, where he is accused of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.

However, a group of three judges from the court retained the option to limit the number of individuals protected from criticism under the order. This could potentially allow Trump to criticize Jack Smith, the special counsel in charge of the federal lawsuits against him.

In October, Tanya Chutkan, the judge overseeing the trial in Washington’s federal district court, issued a gag order that prohibited Trump from making any public statements that defame prosecutors, potential witnesses, or court staff participating in the case.

However, Chutkan specifically authorized Trump to express disapproval towards the Justice Department, President Joe Biden, and even herself. She also granted him the right to argue that the prosecution against him was motivated by political bias.

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Trump’s legal team quickly lodged an appeal, contending that the order amounted to “censorship” at its core, violating his First Amendment privileges during an ongoing campaign where he continuously laments being politically targeted. The appeals court has temporarily halted the order’s enforcement as it evaluates the legal challenge.

During the hearing, the three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit strongly challenged the notion that Trump’s social media posts should be fully protected by the First Amendment as instances of essential political expression.

The judges raised doubts about whether these posts could be viewed as something entirely distinct: instances of political speech with the intention to obstruct or manipulate the criminal justice system.

The judges also proposed the potential implementation of a gag order on Trump as a preventative measure to safeguard individuals involved in the case from future threats or harassment.

They referred to a recurring pattern that has been observed since the 2020 election, wherein individuals mentioned by the former president in his online posts have subsequently faced threats and harassment.

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