U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has issued a temporary injunction on lower court orders that say Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) must comply with a subpoena relating to his attempts to overturn Georgia’s results in the 2020 presidential election.
Thomas oversees emergency requests from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Earlier this month, that appellate court agreed with a district court ruling that said Graham could not avoid the subpoena request from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who wants Graham to testify before a grand jury regarding his actions surrounding the election.
While the injunction is in place, the Republican senator will not have to appear before the grand jury. The injunction will remain in place while the entire Supreme Court considers whether to grant review to the 11th Circuit Court’s opinion. At least four of the nine justices must agree to do so in order for the case to move forward — if they do not, the 11th Circuit Court’s opinion will remain in place, and Graham will have to abide by the subpoena.
With the balance of the Court leaning 6-3 in favor of the conservative justices, it’s likely the justices will vote to at least entertain Graham’s claims. However, the Court did reject a challenge from former President Donald Trump earlier this month over dubious claims relating to documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Graham is wanted for questioning related to his conversations with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) weeks after Trump lost the 2020 presidential election (in the state and in the U.S. overall) to now-President Joe Biden. Graham had called Raffensperger to discuss mail-in ballots, and allegedly wanted him to dispose of all mail-in ballots from counties that had higher rates of signature discrepancies, even if many of the ballots didn’t have discrepancies themselves — a move that would have disregarded thousands of legitimate votes and likely helped Trump win the state, as Biden supporters voted by mail at higher rates.
Graham has defended the call, saying his words were not as direct and malicious as Raffensperger has alleged.
In court, Graham has also asserted that he doesn’t need to comply with Willis’s subpoena due to the speech and debate clause of the U.S. Constitution, which shields lawmakers in Congress from being held accountable for their words during debates or in their official work. He has also claimed that he is protected from having to comply with such orders as a U.S. senator.
Both arguments were soundly rejected by the 11th Circuit Court. The three-judge panel noted in its ruling earlier this month, for example, that Graham’s defenses based on the speech and debate clause have been interpreted by the Supreme Court to only apply to “inquiry into acts that occur in the regular course of the legislative process,” not for any action or statements a lawmaker makes.
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