Aileen Mercedes Cannon, appointed as a judge by Donald Trump three years ago, finds herself unexpectedly presiding over his trial. The trial’s start date has been set for May 20, 2024, in her small Fort Pierce, Florida courtroom, marking an unprecedented federal criminal prosecution of a former president. This high-stakes case involves Trump facing 37 counts, including willfully retaining highly classified US documents in his Mar-a-Lago, Florida home, obstruction of justice, and lying to federal law enforcement officials. If found guilty, some of these charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, and Judge Cannon will be responsible for sentencing if a jury convicts Trump.
The pressure on Judge Aileen Mercedes Cannon is amplified by the trial’s timing, coinciding with the intense battle before the November 2024 presidential election, where Trump is leading the race for the Republican nomination.
As questions arise about how she will handle the trial proceedings while addressing the election campaign needs of the man who appointed her, it’s worth noting that when Trump nominated her to the lifetime position in 2020, Cannon was relatively young at 38 years old. Born in Cali, Colombia, she grew up in Florida, and her mother immigrated from Cuba to the United States during childhood.
Cannon boasts an impressive academic background, having earned her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her law degree from the renowned University of Michigan Law School.
Being associated with the Federalist Society, a group that brings together conservative attorneys, judges, and legal experts, Cannon worked at a private law firm in Washington for three years and served as an assistant US attorney for seven years before becoming a judge. Her selection to oversee the Trump case was purely random, selected blindly from several active federal judges in the Justice Department’s southern Florida district.
The trial has not been without controversy, as some legal experts argue that Cannon should have recused herself due to alleged bias towards Trump displayed last year when she was assigned a lawsuit he filed over the FBI raid to retrieve Mar-a-Lago documents.
As the presiding judge, Cannon holds significant power over the trial and will play a critical role in shaping its course. The chosen start date of May 20, 2024, positions the trial amid the ongoing presidential campaign.
Speculation arises that if the trial is still ongoing and Trump wins the November 2024 election, he could potentially take action to intervene or even pardon himself upon taking office.
The decisions made by the judge will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the proceedings, as acknowledged by legal experts like Daniel Richman, a law professor at Columbia University.
Despite the various speculations and concerns, some have faith in Cannon’s ability to ensure a fair and impartial trial for Trump. Edward Foley, a constitutional law professor at Ohio State University, asserts that it is now impossible for Trump to claim bias against him.
Thomas Holbrook, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, acknowledges the challenging position Cannon finds herself in, recognizing the difficulty she faces in managing potential biases and public expectations.