Amidst the ongoing case concerning former President Donald Trump’s mishandling of government documents stored at his Mar-a-Lago estate, U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon finds herself amidst yet another controversy. This latest development, which could potentially fuel doubts about the judge’s impartiality towards Trump, involves a potential civil rights violation in a separate criminal case, as reported by Reuters.
In June, Judge Cannon presided over the jury selection process for a defendant accused of distributing images of child sex abuse. Disregarding objections from both the defense and prosecution, Cannon controversially denied public access to the courtroom, despite the defense lawyer citing a previous Supreme Court ruling that criticized her actions as a violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. Unswayed, Cannon undeterredly proceeded with her decision to withhold a public hearing, exclaiming, “Your objection is overruled.”
Furthermore, Cannon overlooked the customary practice of swearing in the jury pool before commencing the selection process. Had she not caught this oversight, it could have potentially invalidated the entire trial. After acknowledging her mistake, Cannon called for a reboot of the process and then agreed to allow the defendant’s mother into the courtroom. However, a plea deal was reached by the defendant and prosecutors before the restart became necessary.
Legal experts argue that these actions raise concerns about Judge Cannon’s negligence in enforcing courtroom rules, potentially leading to procedural errors in Trump’s impending trial scheduled for May next year. This sentiment is reinforced by previous judgments issued by Cannon in favor of Trump during the Mar-a-Lago documents case, which were ultimately overturned by higher courts. One such contentious decision was granting Trump’s request for a special master to review the White House documents retrieved by the FBI from his estate, based on dubious claims of executive privilege. Legal scholars including University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck and Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson criticized this move as an unprecedented intervention in an ongoing federal criminal and national security investigation.
Cannon’s limitations imposed on the scope of the special master, which prevented probing into the reason behind Trump’s baseless claim that the FBI had planted documents at his property, attracted further censure. Additionally, a docketing error by Cannon’s court accidentally exposed sealed documents, highlighting discrepancies between her previous court filings and the content of the documents themselves. Former FBI agent and CNN national security analyst Asha Rangappa pointed out that Cannon seemed to have exaggerated the quantity of “personal records” seized by the FBI to warrant a special master’s involvement.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Cannon’s order for a special master in December, unanimously emphasizing that Cannon lacked the jurisdiction to order such a review or restrict the FBI from using the documents without special master scrutiny. The court criticized the preferential treatment seemingly accorded to Trump solely due to his former presidential status. “The law is clear,” stated the court’s order, “We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after its execution. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so.”
The accumulation of these events has led to mounting concerns about Judge Aileen Cannon’s consistency and impartiality. Experts and legal observers assert that her controversial actions may continue to draw scrutiny in Trump’s upcoming trial. As the legal proceedings unfold, the spotlight will remain firmly focused on Cannon’s decisions, ensuring a watchful eye on the path towards justice.