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South Carolina Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Mark Meadows’ Appeal in Georgia 2020 Election Probe


Donald Trump confers with then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows while departing the White House on Sept. 1, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

The South Carolina Supreme Court will hear an appeal requested by former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that questions whether or not he should be forced to testify in Georgia about the 2020 election.

The Court granted a Rule 204(b) request to hear the case, according to a Monday order. The rule reads as follows:

(b) Certification by Supreme Court. In any case which is pending before the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court may, in its discretion, on motion of any party to the case, on request by the Court of Appeals, or on its own motion, certify the case for review by the Supreme Court before it has been determined by the Court of Appeals. Certification is normally appropriate where the case involves an issue of significant public interest or a legal principle of major importance. The effect of such certification shall be to transfer jurisdiction over the case to the Supreme Court for all purposes.

Meadows directly sought the High State Court’s review after a South Carolina circuit court judge ordered him testify in Georgia.

Meadows was a key figure in the former president’s efforts to reverse the 2020 election outcome, and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) has sought his testimony before a grand jury empaneled in Georgia.

“This case concerns issues of significant public interest and legal principles of major importance such that certification is warranted under Rule 204(b),” attorneys for Meadows wrote on Nov. 17, 2022 while asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to accept the case. “Mr. Meadows seeks vacatur of the Circuit Court’s order compelling him to testify before a Georgia special purpose grand jury under South Carolina Code § 19-9-20.”

The cited statute, in relevant part, defines the word “witness.”

Meadows pointed the court to a looming Nov. 30, 2022 deadline in Georgia as one reason why the state Supreme Court should take the case. Given the timeline, Meadows asked the state Supreme Court to hear the matter before an intermediate appellate court, the South Carolina Court of Appeals, could weigh in on the controversy. In essence, by accepting the Rule 204(b) certification, the state high court allowed Meadows to jump ahead in line and seek its review without taking the usual path through the court of appeals first.

Meadows’ attorneys said the circuit court’s order forcing him to testify “incorrectly interprets Section 19-9-20, enforces a moot certification, incorrectly holds that Mr. Meadows is a material witness to the Fulton County investigation, and violates Mr. Meadows’s constitutional right to privacy.”

“The Court should therefore grant certification and reverse,” they concluded.

Meadows asked the state Supreme Court to rubbish the order requiring him to appear in Georgia along these grounds:

The Circuit Court wrongly ordered Mr. Meadows, a South Carolina citizen, to travel out of state and testify before a Georgia special purpose grand jury on November 30, 2022, pursuant to South Carolina’s Uniform Act to Secure the Attendance of Witnesses from Without a State in Criminal Proceedings (“the Uniform Act”). South Carolina, however, adopted the Uniform Act for limited circumstances in criminal cases, not far-reaching (politically fraught) matters of mere civil investigation. A Georgia special purpose grand jury is not a criminal proceeding or a true grand jury as that term is used in South Carolina’s Uniform Act. The Georgia special purpose grand jury has no authority to issue indictments and will instead issue a public report making recommendations regarding possible criminal charges. It lacks the sine qua non of a grand jury: the ability to issue indictments.

Next, Meadows argued that Georgia’s “certification and its finding of materiality has expired” as yet another reason why he should not be ordered to testify:

As Georgia’s petition makes clear, the purported obligation on Mr. Meadows was to appear and testify on a specific date. This is not a request with an ongoing legal obligation to cooperate, but rather a demand to appear on a date that has now come and gone.

Thus, he argued, “this controversy is moot”:

The citizens of South Carolina have a strong interest (and one backed by important legal principles) in ensuring that only procedurally sound out-of-state certifications are enforced. Additionally, the Fulton County certification seeks information protected by executive privilege, rendering Mr. Meadows’s testimony immaterial. Finally, the lower court’s order failed to respect Mr. Meadows’s constitutional right to privacy, which will be invaded by compelled testimony before the special purpose grand jury. The Fulton County District Attorney has already widely publicized the findings of the ongoing investigation, and there is no doubt that she and the special purpose grand jury will continue to do so.

The circuit court order that required Meadows to testify was largely premised on the U.S. Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit clause. In a footnote, for Meadows said that clause “does not apply” to this case “because the question before the Court is (and was) whether the special purpose grand jury constitutes a grand jury under South Carolina law, not whether it is engaged in a criminal investigation under Georgia law.”

“A grand jury is defined by the power to issue bills of indictment, not by the fact that it investigates crimes,” Meadows’ attorneys continued in an attempt to draw a distinction that the state Supreme Court might find acceptable.  “If a criminal proceeding is defined by investigation of potentially criminal conduct and the ability to issue a recommendation, any government body could conduct a criminal proceeding. And, under the Fulton County District Attorney’s construction of the law, if that body included the words ‘grand jury’ in its name, it could avail itself of the Uniform Act.”

“Georgia, or any other State, cannot merely title some government body a ‘grand jury’ in name and then force South Carolina courts to coerce citizens to travel out of state, since that is not the law adopted by the people of South Carolina in the form of the Uniform Act,” Meadows’ attorneys reiterated.

Later, Meadows’ attorneys leaned in on the argument that the former chief of staff is not a “material witness” in the Georgia probe.

“Mr. Meadows’s testimony is subject to a sweeping and valid claim of executive privilege, rendering his potential testimony immaterial,” they asserted to bolster that point. “Additionally, his claim of privilege is the subject of ongoing litigation in the federal courts.”

The following paragraph elucidates further:

Mr. Meadows has been instructed by the former President to preserve certain privileges and immunities attaching to his former office as White House Chief of Staff that prevent him from being compelled to testify about his work with and on behalf of then-President Donald Trump. Most relevant here are the protections of executive privilege, which reach Mr. Meadows’s communications “in the course of preparing advice for the President,” In re Sealed Case, 121 F.3d 729, 752 (D.C. Cir. 1997), and any materials that reveal his or other executive officials’ pre-decisional deliberative processes. See Army Times Publ’g Co. v. Department of the Air Force, 998 F.2d 1067, 1070 (D.C. Cir. 1993). Mr. Meadows was the most senior advisor to the President, and the confidentiality of his deliberations and communications is protected by the Constitution of the United States as necessary to a healthy executive branch. See United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 708, (1974). The privilege protects Mr. Meadows interactions with the former President, his deliberations with the former President’s other senior advisors, and the processes by which he formulated advice for the former president.

Later, Meadows’ attorneys balked that the Georgia proceeding constitutes a “grievous intrusion on Mr. Meadows’s privacy” because the proceeding will be detailed in a public report.

“This intrusion into Mr. Meadows’s rights is wholly unlike the intrusion worked by a true grand jury subpoena,” the document suggests. “True grand jury proceedings are secret, and the invasion of witness’s privacy is minimal.”

Meadows resigned from Congress to serve as White House chief of staff from March 31, 2020 to Jan. 20, 2021.

The full Nov. 17 motion which urged the state Supreme Court to hear the case is here.

[image via Win McNamee/Getty Images]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.