I learned some Latin this morning

Mark Meadows, the creationist ninny who also happened to be Trump’s chief of staff and self-serving MAGA nut, rushed to testify in an Atlanta court on Monday. He was basically trying to get himself off the hook — I expect a lot of the indicted are thinking about how to get out from under a prison sentence — and his defense was the good ol’ “I was just following orders” excuse. The cute thing about that is that he just passed the buck to the ex-president.

It’s all the more curious, then, that Meadows decided to take the witness stand on Monday and assert that he was merely doing his job as Trump’s chief of staff when he partook in what Atlanta prosecutors call a pressure campaign to flip the vote there. Because in doing so, he’s essentially pointing the finger at his boss.

“He now cannot ever say, ‘I wasn’t doing this for the president, I was acting on my own,’” said Peter Odom, a former prosecutor at the Fulton County DA’s office.

Indeed, Meadows’ entire defense rests upon the idea that he was just doing his job, that his efforts to connect Trump with people who would help to overturn the election was at the direction of the former president himself. It’s precisely that point which Fulton County DA Fani Willis is trying to prove: that Trump was at the center of this entire criminal conspiracy.

Anyway, more important than yet another day of legal maneuvering is that I learned a Latin phrase!

“There’s an ancient legal doctrine: Respondeat superior. It’s Latin for ‘Let the master answer,’” which means that a boss is ultimately responsible if he “directs the agent to do something,” Carlson said.

That’s going to be so useful in the coming months.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    “Hatch Act” isn’t Latin, is it? In which federal employees are supposed to be doing the work of the government, not campaign work for candidates.

  2. cartomancer says

    “respondeat” is, of course, the (iussive) present subjunctive. It is a very common construction in the kinds of Latin phrases that enter common parlance (e.g. “fiat lux” – “let there be light” or “caveat emptor” – “let the buyer be careful”).

    “superior”, on the other hand, isn’t quite “master”. That would be “dominus”, although I suppose one could argue that in Classical Latin it very much denotes the master of slaves, so a boss in a modern capitalist economy is a (tiny) bit different. Mind you, it was a standard form of address, even from free-born citizens, for the emperor. Pliny starts most of his letters to his imperial boss that way. “superior”, on the other hand, essentially just means “higher up” or “of greater rank”, or even just “further round the table to the head end”.

    An amusing case of the latter is probably the root of rumours that the emperor Caligula was having sex with his sisters. Someone mistook “he was dining at table with one sister to his left (inferior) and one to his right (superior)” for “he was at the table with one sister underneath him and one on top of him”.

    I wonder why I thought of Caligula so quickly in the context of Trump…

  3. mordred says

    “Ich hatte meine Befehle!” Sounds better in the original German, don’t you think?

  4. says

    The only Latin I know comes from having been a choirboy in my college years, singing movements from this or that Mass setting.
    You know, “cum sancto spiritu in gloria dei patris” yada yada yada. Had to work a little on pronunciation; our director stopped us in rehearsal once and accused us of singing it country western.
    I suppose I would have learned more had I attended law school or worked for a criminal president.

  5. robro says

    Interesting. I saw that he had testified, which was a surprise, but had no idea. The loyalty of a fraternity of thieves. Meadows throws Trump under the bus before Trump throws him under the bus…and you know that’s coming. Wonder if he’s working on a plea deal.

  6. warriorpoet says

    They didn’t let Nazis off the hook when they claimed at Nuremberg that they were “following orders”, why would we do so here?

    I get and appreciate the idea of Respondeat superior. However, I think that particular defense falls apart when the subordinate knows, or should reasonably be expected to know, that what they are being told to do is illegal. Obligatory IANAL disclaimer goes here.

  7. raven says

    Yeah, I don’t see that just following orders is going to be a defense.

    Trump had already lost the election.
    Which means Mark Meadows and all the rest of the defendants were soon going to be unemployed, at least by the US government.

    Mark Meadows would have lost very little by just saying no.
    A few days or weeks of pay at the most.

    What is more likely to be a defense is throwing Trump under the bus and cooperating with the prosecution.
    That always goes over well with the DA.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Fiat lux is weird. Fiat is a car, Lux is a Swedish brand of soap.
    God wants the bag with soap left in the car.
    They did let a lot of Japanese war criminals off the hook because of MacArthur. Maybe if Mark Meadows learns Japanese he can get away easier?

  9. StevoR says

    ..his defense was the good ol’ “I was just following orders” excuse.

    That sure worked well at Nuremberg post WW II right? Oh wait..

    FWIW I thought superior meant “above” or higher or something like that. Get most of my Latin from botanicla names plus the odd asteronomical usage. Fun (maybe?) fact – the outer planets from Mars onwards are termed superior ones with those inside Earth’s orbit (& thererefore always closer to our Dytime Star Sol) are dubbed “inferior.” Maybe that’s why Venus melted down? ‘

    Then there’s superior and inferior conjunctions wher eyou actually want an inferior one becuaes you can’t see the planet from superior ones :


  10. robro says

    The might let him off with a “following orders” defense if he testifies who gave the orders. In any case, they wouldn’t treat him like Nazi because he’s American, a Republican, and a Christian.

    Hey, I just noticed he isn’t wearing a flag pin in his mug shot. To the gallows with that heathen!!!

  11. birgerjohansson says

    If you go by Babylonian (or Chaldaean) it is “an eye for an eye”.
    I do not quite know what that would entail for Mark Meadows. Fire him with a cannon at a crowd of fake electors?

  12. bcw bcw says

    The argument is a little more technical as he’s also trying to get it moved to Federal Court where he hopes for a friendlier jury by claiming much of his crimes were part of his official duties which includes following orders from Trump, except that crimes aren’t part of duties. However the burden of proof to get the case moved to Federal Court is low as historically there is a worry about States going after Federal officials. State laws would still apply but judged in a Federal Court.

  13. dobby says


    Rudy already lost. It was a default judgment, the rudy did not comply with court orders. There will be no trial. Next step is a hearing to determine damages.

  14. Steve Morrison says

    @#8: Respondeat superior isn’t a defense for the subordinate; it just means that the superior is responsible for the subordinate’s crimes.

    @#11: Correct, superior literally means higher; cf. Lake Superior, the most northerly of the Great Lakes.

    @#12: Maybe they’d treat him like Lieutenant Calley?

  15. says

    I just can’t wait for the day Trump is on the witness stand and tries to bust out his fraudulent votes BS.
    Prosecutor: So you lost the election by over 100,000 votes
    Trump: Well if you count the fraudulent votes
    Prosecutor: objection your honor, there were not 100 fraudulent votes, much less than 11,000.

  16. says

    (1) Respondeat superior is completely irrelevant in criminal trials. It is a civil-liability concept to ensure that the injured plaintiff can recover his/her/their damages from the party that directed the acts that caused the damages. Put another way, it’s not a defense; it’s “they need to pay, too.”

    The key thing to remember in evaluating respondeat superior is that it become a live issue if, and only if, the “servant” is/will be found liable for damages to the plaintiff. No tort, no need to hold the master accountable. That’s precisely why it’s not relevant in criminal proceedings.

    (2) @17: Calley was convicted. He lost on appeal and was sent to the Inferno (aka the United States Military Correctional Facility at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas). He was later given a Presidential pardon… by a President who himself needed a later pardon. That’s an interesting precedent here, right?