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A Harvard Law professor says it was ‘unbelievably juvenile’ for Trump’s legal team to cite the infamous ‘Scottsboro Boys’ case as they pushed for a federal election interference trial in 2026

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Former President Donald Trump.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Trump’s attorneys unsuccessfully sought to move the federal election interference trial to 2026.
His team cited Powell v. Alabama, the SCOTUS ruling that guarantees a defendant “reasonable time” to obtain counsel.
Harvard professor Dehlia Umunna told The Post that the Trump team citing the “Scottsboro Boys” case was “unbelievably juvenile.”

When former President Donald Trump’s attorneys sought to push the ex-president’s federal election interference trial to April 2026, they cited the landmark Supreme Court case regarding the infamous convictions of the “Scottsboro Boys” — nine young Black men falsly accused of raping two white women. 

In the 1932 decision, Powell v. Alabama, the court’s ruling guaranteed the right of a defendant to “reasonable time and opportunity to secure counsel.”

The Scottsboro case attracted widespread attention. The men were swiftly arrested, tried, and sentenced within weeks, with hardly had any opportunity to speak with their attorneys before their convictions.

As a result of Powell, the men had their convictions reversed — but the effects of the accusations didn’t go away. Collectively, the men had spent decades in prison. By 1950, some battled declining health and violence. One of the men died by suicide. 

Trump’s legal team, in seeking to fight charges that Trump sought to subvert the 2020 presidential election results, argued that that the former president needed additional time to prepare a defense, pointing to Powell.

US District Judge Tanya Chutkan wasn’t persuaded by the citation and set the trial to begin in March 2024.

“I have seen many cases unduly delayed because a defendant lacks adequate representation or cannot properly review discovery because they are detained,” the judge said. “That is not the case here.”

Chutkan said that Trump — who has not been jailed for any extensive period of time — had a “profoundly different” situation that what was outlined in Powell.

Dehlia Umunna, a professor at Harvard Law School, recently told The Washington Post that it was “unbelievably juvenile” for the Trump team to cite the Scottsboro case.

“The Supreme Court held that there was an explicit denial of due process because the Scottsboro defendants were not afforded reasonable time and opportunity to procure counsel,” she told the newspaper. “That is not the case with defendant Trump. His actions leading to these charges occurred over two years ago, and he has several lawyers representing him.”

Kenneth W. Mack, a professor of law and an affiliate professor of history at Harvard University, told The Post that the Scottsboro case is “one of the landmarks of American law.”

“It is hard to believe that Trump’s legal team actually thought that citing it would be persuasive for this judge, or for any subsequent judges who will rule on appeals after the trial is over,” he said.

During a CNN interview last week, Trump attorney John Lauro sought to cut through the criticism of the Scottsboro citation, arguing that Powell “is routinely cited in legal briefs and in Supreme Court decisions regarding the right of counsel.”

“So we were ethically required to cite to that case and bring the court’s attention to the holding and the legal principles that are set forth in Powell v. Alabama,” he said. “What we didn’t do in any way in our briefing was suggest that there are any parallels back to the factual circumstances of the Powell case with President Trump’s case.”

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Former President Donald Trump.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Trump’s attorneys unsuccessfully sought to move the federal election interference trial to 2026.
His team cited Powell v. Alabama, the SCOTUS ruling that guarantees a defendant “reasonable time” to obtain counsel.
Harvard professor Dehlia Umunna told The Post that the Trump team citing the “Scottsboro Boys” case was “unbelievably juvenile.”

When former President Donald Trump’s attorneys sought to push the ex-president’s federal election interference trial to April 2026, they cited the landmark Supreme Court case regarding the infamous convictions of the “Scottsboro Boys” — nine young Black men falsly accused of raping two white women. 

In the 1932 decision, Powell v. Alabama, the court’s ruling guaranteed the right of a defendant to “reasonable time and opportunity to secure counsel.”

The Scottsboro case attracted widespread attention. The men were swiftly arrested, tried, and sentenced within weeks, with hardly had any opportunity to speak with their attorneys before their convictions.

As a result of Powell, the men had their convictions reversed — but the effects of the accusations didn’t go away. Collectively, the men had spent decades in prison. By 1950, some battled declining health and violence. One of the men died by suicide. 

Trump’s legal team, in seeking to fight charges that Trump sought to subvert the 2020 presidential election results, argued that that the former president needed additional time to prepare a defense, pointing to Powell.

US District Judge Tanya Chutkan wasn’t persuaded by the citation and set the trial to begin in March 2024.

“I have seen many cases unduly delayed because a defendant lacks adequate representation or cannot properly review discovery because they are detained,” the judge said. “That is not the case here.”

Chutkan said that Trump — who has not been jailed for any extensive period of time — had a “profoundly different” situation that what was outlined in Powell.

Dehlia Umunna, a professor at Harvard Law School, recently told The Washington Post that it was “unbelievably juvenile” for the Trump team to cite the Scottsboro case.

“The Supreme Court held that there was an explicit denial of due process because the Scottsboro defendants were not afforded reasonable time and opportunity to procure counsel,” she told the newspaper. “That is not the case with defendant Trump. His actions leading to these charges occurred over two years ago, and he has several lawyers representing him.”

Kenneth W. Mack, a professor of law and an affiliate professor of history at Harvard University, told The Post that the Scottsboro case is “one of the landmarks of American law.”

“It is hard to believe that Trump’s legal team actually thought that citing it would be persuasive for this judge, or for any subsequent judges who will rule on appeals after the trial is over,” he said.

During a CNN interview last week, Trump attorney John Lauro sought to cut through the criticism of the Scottsboro citation, arguing that Powell “is routinely cited in legal briefs and in Supreme Court decisions regarding the right of counsel.”

“So we were ethically required to cite to that case and bring the court’s attention to the holding and the legal principles that are set forth in Powell v. Alabama,” he said. “What we didn’t do in any way in our briefing was suggest that there are any parallels back to the factual circumstances of the Powell case with President Trump’s case.”

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