Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump-appointed judge, has been assigned to preside over the federal trial of former President Donald Trump, who is charged with mishandling classified information. Given her disturbing lack of experience and a history of ruling in Trump's favor, her involvement at a time when public trust in the system is waning poses a significant risk of further undermining that trust.
Cannon's suitability to handle such a high-stakes case is questionable. Her time on the bench has been characterized more by the contentious cases she's handled than by demonstrative experience and understanding of nuanced legal principles.
Sign the petition: Judge Aileen Cannon must recuse herself from Trump’s case
The Question of Experience
There's no denying that Cannon's appointment to the bench just three short years ago raises eyebrows. Before her appointment, she had never previously served as a judge. She was also appointed in November 2020, after Trump lost his reelection, and she was quickly confirmed by the lame-duck Republican Senate.
Because 98% of federal criminal cases are resolved with plea bargains, she's had limited opportunity on the bench to learn how to preside over a trial. Her professional track record clearly lacks the depth of experience traditionally associated with judges presiding over cases of such high public interest.
Cannon's history with Trump-related cases makes her unfit to preside over this case. Last year, she ordered a "special master" to review the classified documents that federal officers had found at Mar-a-Lago. Then she blocked authorities from using the documents in their investigation while the review was underway. An appellate court that included two other Trump-appointed judges later reversed this ruling.
In a legal proceeding of such historical significance, the perception of fairness is as crucial as actual fairness. As noted by Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University School of Law, even the perception of selective prosecution can undermine public trust in our court system and law enforcement agencies.
A Threat to a Fair Trial
As the presiding judge, Cannon has the discretion to decide what evidence is admissible in court. In this capacity, a favorable bias toward Trump might sway her decision-making, allowing evidence supporting Trump's defense while excluding or downplaying contradicting evidence. She could also allow more Trump supporters onto the jury or influence their perception of the trial.
And in the event of a conviction, Cannon would be responsible for determining the sentence. Bias toward Trump could result in a lenient sentence, weakening the gravity of any potential criminal conduct.
Why Cannon Must Recuse Herself
Cannon must recuse herself in light of her professional inexperience and perceived favoritism toward Trump. This is more than a critique of her professional shortcomings—it's an urgent appeal to uphold the integrity of our justice system.
Federal law requires a judge to step away from a case in which impartiality "might reasonably be questioned." Given Cannon's history and previous rulings in Trump's favor, her impartiality reaches that threshold.
This is no ordinary trial. Its outcome will either enforce the notion that no one is above the law or erode public faith in our judiciary. The mere perception of a conflict of interest can compromise the public's confidence in the justice system, regardless of the trial's actual fairness. By stepping aside, Cannon can ensure that the proceedings maintain their credibility and that justice is truly served.
We must demand that Cannon recuse herself from Trump's case to ensure a fair trial and uphold public trust in our courts.