Following the riot on January 6th 2021, a Democratic congressperson and two Capitol police officers brought lawsuits against serial sex offender Donald Trump (SSAT), accusing him of inciting the mob with his speech that day to the crowd.
The lawsuits seek civil damages for harms they say they endured when rioters descended on the Capitol as Congress met to certify Biden’s election victory, smashing windows, engaging in hand-to-hand combat with police officers and sending lawmakers running into hiding. One of the lawsuits, filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, alleges that Trump directly incited the violence at the Capitol “and then watched approvingly as the building was overrun.”
Two other lawsuits were also filed, one by other House Democrats and another by officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby, who were both injured in the riot. Blassingame said Friday that he “couldn’t be more committed to pursuing accountability” in the case.
SSAT’s lawyers had argued for dismissal of the cases, arguing that he could not be sued because presidential immunity covered his actions. But yesterday a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals rejected that argument, saying the case should go to trial to determine the basic facts of the case, as to whether his speech was part of his of presidential duties or not.
[T]he three-judge panel said the 2024 Republican presidential primary frontrunner can continue to fight, as the cases proceed, to try to prove that his actions were taken in his official capacity as president.
Trump has said he can’t be sued over the riot that left dozens of police officers injured, arguing that his words during a rally before the storming of the Capitol addressed “matters of public concern” and fall within the scope of absolute presidential immunity.
While courts have afforded presidents broad immunity for their official acts, the judges made clear that that protection does not cover just any act or speech undertaken by a president. A president running for a second term, for example, is not carrying out the official duties of the presidency when he is speaking at a rally funded by his reelection campaign or attends a private fundraiser, the appeals court said.
“He is acting as office-seeker, not office-holder — no less than are the persons running against him when they take precisely the same actions in their competing campaigns to attain precisely the same office,” Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote for the court.
But the court said its decision is not necessarily the final word on the issue of presidential immunity, leaving the door open for Trump to keep fighting the issue. And it took pains to note that it was not being asked to evaluate whether Trump was responsible for the riot or should be held to account in court. It also said Trump could still seek to argue that his actions were protected by the First Amendment — a claim he’s also made in his pending criminal case — or covered by other privileges.
“When these cases move forward in the district court, he must be afforded the opportunity to develop his own facts on the immunity question if he desires to show that he took the actions alleged in the complaints in his official capacity as president rather than in his unofficial capacity as a candidate,” the court said.
Trump could ask the full appeals court to take up the matter or go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If this ruling stands (as I expect since it is quite narrow) and is not overturned by the full Appeals court or the US Supreme Court, then we will have SSAT facing even more trials. The calendar is getting pretty crowded.
Meanwhile, we can expect some angry tirades from SSAT over this latest legal setback, though it is not clear whether those will include personal attacks on the three justices and their staffs and families as he has done in other cases.