MARK SHERMAN and ERIC TUCKER 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Special counsel Jack Smith on Monday asked the Supreme Court to take up and rule quickly on whether former President Donald Trump can be prosecuted on charges he plotted to overturn the 2020 election results.

A federal judge ruled the case could go forward, but the Republican former president signaled he would ask the federal appeals court in Washington to reverse that outcome.

Smith is attempting to bypass the appeals court. The request filed Monday for the Supreme Court to take up the matter directly reflects Smith's desire to keep the trial, currently for March 4, on track and to prevent any delays that could push back the case until after next year's presidential election.

"This case presents a fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: whether a former President is absolutely immune from federal prosecution for crimes committed while in office or is constitutionally protected from federal prosecution when he has been impeached but not convicted before the criminal proceedings begin," prosecutors wrote.

The earliest court would consider the appeal would be Jan. 5, the date of the justices' next scheduled private conference.

Underscoring the urgency for prosecutors in securing a quick resolution that can push the case forward, they wrote: "It is of imperative public importance that respondent's claims of immunity be resolved by this Court and that respondent's trial proceed as promptly as possible if his claim of immunity is rejected."

At issue is a Dec. 1 ruling from U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan that rejected arguments by Trump's lawyers that he was immune from federal prosecution. In her order, she wrote that said the office of the president "does not confer a lifelong 'get-out-of-jail-free' pass."

"Former Presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability," Chutkan wrote. "Defendant may be subject to federal investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction, and punishment for any criminal acts undertaken while in office."

Trump faces charges accusing him of working to overturn the results of the 2020 election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden before the violent riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol. He has denied any wrongdoing.