(CNN) The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to block a subpoena for Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to testify before a special grand jury in Atlanta investigating attempts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election.
There was no public dissent against the order.
The South Carolina senator had filed an emergency motion, asking judges to halt testimony – currently scheduled for November 17 – while legal challenges continue.
Graham is now required to appear for testimony, although he has the opportunity to object to certain questions if they arise, meaning the scope of his testimony or answers could be limited.
In the unsigned order, the judges agreed with the lower courts, noting that Graham could not be required to speak specifically on issues related to his role as legislator. The court also noted that the senator’s attorneys can still object to questions on a case-by-case basis in disputes over specific issues.
“Accordingly,” the Supreme Court said, “a stay or injunction is not required to preserve the senator’s speech or debate clause immunity.”
That could give Graham significant leeway to challenge questions or requests from the grand jury
Graham argued that he should not comply with the subpoena because his testimony was precluded by the Constitution’s speech or debate clause, which protects legislators from certain criminal or civil proceedings related to their legislative duties.
Critics feared that a Graham Supreme Court victory would encourage other congressmen to make similar claims to protect themselves from testifying. The clause states that “Members of Congress shall not be questioned in any other place for any speech or debate in either House”.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has indicated that she would like to question Graham about his calls to Georgia election officials after the 2020 election. The senator’s attorneys have described the calls as “investigative calls,” made in furtherance of legitimate legislative activity to update him on his upcoming certification decision.
“This order dismisses Senator Graham’s contention that the Fulton County District Attorney is constitutionally barred from questioning him for meddling in the 2020 election,” said Joshua Matz, an attorney filing an amicus brief on behalf of former federal prosecutors in which he challenges Graham’s position. Matz noted that while the judges agreed that Graham should not be questioned about legislative activity, he may face additional hurdles.
“While the order allows Graham to return to federal court if he wishes to raise further objections, four federal judges — including the district judge serving his case — have already concluded that many of his expected objections are unfounded,” he said.
A spokesman for the Fulton County District Attorney declined to comment.
Graham’s office called the Supreme Court ruling a victory.
“Today the Supreme Court affirmed that the Constitution’s speech or debate clause applies here,” his official said in a statement. They also reiterated that Senator Graham ‘can return to district court’ if the district attorney seeks to question his constitutionally protected activities. The senator’s legal team intends to work with the district attorney’s office on the next steps to ensure compliance with this constitutional immunity.”
Last week, Judge Clarence Thomas, who oversees the lower courts involved in the case, temporarily blocked testimony. Thomas’ move was an administrative stay, most likely issued to give Supreme Court justices more time to consider the dispute.
Willis argued that those who participated in the calls had publicly expressed their understanding that Graham had suggested or implied in the calls that Georgia Foreign Minister Brad Raffensperger should discard certain ballots or institute procedures reflecting the results of the State elections would change.
Willis is leading a special grand jury investigation into Trump-affiliated efforts to rig the results of the 2020 Georgia election. Their investigation recently secured grand jury testimony from former Georgia U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler and former White House Attorney Pat Cipollone, CNN reported last month.
This story has been updated with additional details.