Trump loses presidential immunity appeal to block Jan. 6 lawsuits from Capitol Police officers

Trump loses presidential immunity appeal to block Jan. 6 lawsuits from Capitol Police officers

A three-judge panel at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia affirms a lower court’s ruling that former President Donald Trump can be sued by U.S. Capitol Police officers seeking to hold Trump financially liable for the Washington riot that took place on Jan. 6, 2021. The ruling is the latest loss for Trump, whose lawyers continue to argue in court that presidential immunity shields him from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits. Here is the latest legal news involving the man who hopes to win reelection to the White House in 2024.

Jan. 6 election interference

Civil lawsuits seeking to hold Trump liable for Capitol riot can proceed, appeals court rules

Key players: United States District Court for the District of Columbia Judges Sri Srinivasan, Bradley Garcia and Judith Rogers; Trump lawyer John Sauer; special counsel Jack Smith; columnist E. Jean Carroll

  • On Friday, a federal appeals court affirmed a district court’s ruling that Capitol Police officers can proceed with lawsuits seeking to hold Trump liable for the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol building, Law & Crime reported.

  • In multiple cases, Trump’s lawyers have argued that since Trump was still president on the day his supporters attempted to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, all of his statements and actions should be viewed as part of his official duties and are therefore protected from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.

  • The three-judge panel disagreed, siding with the lower court’s ruling issued on Dec. 1 that presidential immunity claims did not protect Trump from civil lawsuits seeking damages for his alleged role in the Capitol riot.

  • “When a first-term President opts to seek a second term, his campaign to win re-election is not an official presidential act,” the lower appeals court wrote in its decision.

  • Trump’s lawyers are also seeking to have Smith’s election interference case dismissed on similar grounds.

  • Last week, Sauer wrote in a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that no president could face a criminal prosecution “based on conduct for which he was acquitted by the U.S. Senate” despite a majority vote to oust him from office.

  • On social media, Trump has said he was “doing my duty as president” by claiming the election was rigged against him.

  • The D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments in that case on Jan. 9.

  • This week, a federal appeals court ruled that presidential immunity does not protect Trump from civil defamation lawsuits filed by Carroll, the second of which is scheduled to begin on Jan. 16.

Why it matters: Friday’s ruling means that lawsuits filed against Trump by Capitol Police officers can proceed, and it sets the stage for the next presidential immunity battle on Jan. 9.

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Thursday, Dec. 28

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Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, issues a determination that former President Donald Trump is prohibited from seeking office again in 2024 due to Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The Colorado Republican Party officially asks the United States Supreme Court to weigh in on that same question. With primary elections to determine party nominees for president just weeks away, the high court is almost certain to take up the question quickly. In the second defamation lawsuit brought by columnist E. Jean Carroll, an appeals court refuses a motion by Trump’s lawyers to delay the Jan. 16 start of the trial. Here’s the latest legal news for the man who hopes to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

Jan. 6 election interference

Maine Secretary of State rules Trump is ineligible to appear on state’s 2024 ballots

Key players: Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows

  • Bellows, a Democrat, determined that Trump was “not qualified” to become president again based on the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which prevents those who participated in “insurrection or rebellion” from holding elected office, Reuters reported.

  • “I conclude that Mr. Trump’s primary petition is invalid. Specifically I find that the declaration on his candidate consent form is false because he is not qualified to hold the office of the President under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

  • But Bellows suspended her decision from taking effect until the state Supreme Court rules on the matter.

  • Citing her past tweets on “the violent insurrection” at the Capitol building carried out by Trump’s supporters, Trump’s lawyers had demanded that Bellows disqualify herself from the decision.

  • Unlike other states where legal challenges are unfolding in the court system over Trump’s eligibility under the 14th Amendment, Maine allows the secretary of state to issue an independent determination.

Why it matters: Prior to Bellows’s decision, Colorado’s Supreme Court stood alone in determining that the Constitution prohibited Trump from seeking office in 2024.

Colorado GOP asks U.S. Supreme Court to decide 14th Amendment question about Trump

Key players: American Center for Law and Justice chief counsel Jay Sekulow, Colorado Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court

  • Late Wednesday, the Colorado Republican Party asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether Trump could be barred from ballots based on a reading of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, Politico reported.

  • The party, which is represented by Sekulow, argues that the 14th Amendment clause does not apply to the presidency and must be enforced by Congress alone.

  • Earlier this month, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump should be removed from ballots because he engaged in insurrection when he directed his followers to descend on the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress was about to certify Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

  • In the majority 4-3 opinion, the court wrote: “President Trump did not merely incite the insurrection. Even when the siege on the Capitol was fully underway, he continued to support it. These actions constituted overt, voluntary, and direct participation in the insurrection.”

  • Several other states are hearing 14th Amendment challenges to Trump’s 2024 candidacy. State supreme courts in Minnesota and Michigan have ruled that while Trump cannot be barred from appearing on primary ballots, the question of his eligibility for the general election remains undecided.

  • Sekulow defended Trump in 2020 during his first impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate.

Why it matters: With conflicting state supreme court rulings and the start of the primary election just weeks away, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to quickly take up the matter of whether Trump’s actions leading up to and on Jan. 6, 2021, disqualify him from ever again holding elected office.

E. Jean Carroll defamation

Appeals court denies Trump request to pause E. Jean Carroll defamation trial

Key players: Columnist E. Jean Carroll, Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan

  • On Thursday, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by Trump’s lawyers to pause the start of the second defamation lawsuit brought by Carroll, NBC News reported.

  • Trump’s lawyers had asked for a 90-day delay to allow them to pursue a claim of presidential immunity in the case. They contend he can’t be sued for the disparaging remarks he made about Carroll in 2019 because he was president at the time.

  • But the appeals court rejected that request, and the trial remains on schedule to begin on Jan. 16.

  • In May, a jury awarded Carroll $5 million in damages after finding that Trump sexually abused her in a department store changing room and defamed her when she went public about the encounter.

  • After Trump’s lawyers fought the verdict with a claim of presidential immunity, Kaplan ruled that being president was “not a ‘get out of damages liability free’ card.”

  • Earlier this month, the Second Circuit ruled that Trump could not use a presidential immunity defense because he had already waived his right to invoke it.

  • Trump also lashed out at Carroll’s credibility following the verdict, calling her a “whack job.” In response, Carroll promptly sued Trump a second time.

Why it matters: Trump’s lawyers have attempted to use a presidential immunity defense to shield him from being prosecuted in multiple cases. So far, those efforts have not been successful.

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Wednesday, Dec. 27

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The Michigan Supreme Court rules that state election law does not prohibit former President Donald Trump from being included on primary ballots there, but the court also makes clear that he could still be excluded from general election ballots. The ruling echoes one by the Minnesota Supreme Court but differs from the decision to kick Trump off the ballot in Colorado. Here’s the latest legal news involving the man who is hoping to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

Jan. 6 election interference

Michigan Supreme Court rules Trump’s name can appear on primary ballots

Key players: Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Welch, Colorado Supreme Court, Minnesota Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court, Free Speech for People

  • Echoing a ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court, the highest state court in Michigan upheld an appeals court ruling that allows Trump to remain on primary ballots there, but makes clear that plaintiffs can challenge his inclusion on general election ballots, CNN reported.

  • Citing Article 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forbids those who have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding elected office, Free Speech for People had sued to keep Trump off primary ballots in 2024.

  • Unlike Colorado’s Supreme Court, which ruled that Trump had incited the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building and was therefore ineligible to appear on state ballots, Michigan’s Supreme Court dismissed the question on procedural grounds because state law there does not require candidates to “to attest to their legal qualification to hold the office.”

  • But as with the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling, Welch made clear that those seeking to keep Trump’s name from appearing on ballots could try again should he become the Republican Party’s nominee for president.

  • “I would affirm the Court of Appeals’ ruling on this issue, which still allows appellants to renew their legal efforts as to the Michigan general election later in 2024 should Trump become the Republican nominee for President of the United States or seek such office as an independent candidate,” she wrote.

Why it matters: The riot at the Capitol by Trump’s supporters sought to block the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. The question of whether Trump’s role prevents him from holding office will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Tuesday, Dec. 26

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Former President Donald Trump asks a Washington appeals court to scrap special counsel Jack Smith’s election interference case against him, claiming he cannot be prosecuted for a crime similar to the one for which he was acquitted by the U.S. Senate during his second impeachment trial. In a social media post, Trump pushes that defense even further, claiming that it was his “duty” to contest his 2020 election loss to Biden. Here’s the latest legal news involving the man who hopes to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

Jan. 6 election interference

Trump asks appeals court to toss election interference charges

Key players: Special counsel Jack Smith, D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, U.S. Senate, U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Tanya Chutkan

  • On Saturday, Trump’s lawyers filed a brief with the D.C. Circuit asking them to toss Smith’s election interference case on the grounds that the Senate acquitted Trump in February 2021 of “incitement of insurrection” charges, NBC News reported.

  • “The structure of our government, the text of the Constitution and its early commentators, common-law immunity doctrines, our political history, the Supreme Court’s analogous immunity doctrines, and the policy considerations rooted in the separation of powers all dictate that no President, current or former, may be criminally prosecuted for his official acts unless he is first impeached and convicted by the Senate,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

  • “Nor may a President face criminal prosecution based on conduct for which he was acquitted by the U.S. Senate,” they added. “The indictment against President Trump is unlawful and unconstitutional. It must be dismissed.”

  • While a bipartisan majority of the Senate (57-43) voted that Trump was guilty of incitement of insurrection, it fell 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority required under the Constitution to convict him.

  • Smith has charged Trump with four felony counts in the Jan. 6 case, including “conspiracy to defraud the United States” by knowingly spreading false claims about the 2020 election and attempting to overturn legitimate results.

  • On Jan.9, the appeals court is hearing arguments on whether presidential immunity claims protect Trump from prosecution. That decision is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which last week refused a request by Smith to fast-track a ruling on the immunity question.

  • Smith has argued that Trump’s actions were not part of his official duties as president. Chutkan, who is overseeing the Jan. 6 case against Trump, has already ruled that Trump is not protected by presidential immunity.

  • In a potential preview of new defense arguments, Trump attempted once again to reframe his actions to block the certification by Congress of his loss to Biden on Jan. 6.

  • “I was doing my duty as President to expose and further investigate a Rigged and Stolen Election,” Trump wrote.

Why it matters: Most legal experts believe the appeals court will deny Trump’s request to simply dismiss the charges against him and will rule against the former president on the question of presidential immunity, setting up a date with the Supreme Court.

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