Appeals Court Panel Rules Trump Could Face Lawsuits Over January 6 Incitement Allegations

In a recent ruling, an appeals court has opened the door to legal action against Donald Trump for his alleged role in inciting violence on January 6, 2021. The court firmly rejected Trump’s assertion of complete immunity from liability for his inflammatory statements leading up to the Capitol attack, signaling a significant legal development.

Presidential Immunity

The three-judge panel’s decision clarified that Trump’s actions during his presidential candidacy could not automatically be shielded by what he had termed “presidential immunity.” Trump’s broad argument, advocating for broad protection of an incumbent president’s speech and conduct from lawsuits, was firmly dismissed. This ruling applies to multiple lawsuits filed by members of Congress and injured police officers.

Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals emphasized that when a first-term President seeks re-election, their campaign is distinct from official presidential acts. The institution of the Presidency remains neutral regarding the next occupant, making campaigning an unofficial act.

Nonetheless, the appeals court did not entirely foreclose the possibility for Trump to argue that he was acting as President, rather than a candidate, during his speech at the Ellipse. As for Trump’s response to the ruling, a spokesperson remained silent, leaving the possibility open for further legal challenges, potentially even reaching the Supreme Court.

The appeals court panel, comprising two Democratic appointees and one Republican appointee, refrained from rendering a verdict on Trump’s legal liability in the various lawsuits stemming from the events of January 6. Instead, it affirmed a lower-court judge’s decision from the previous year, denying Trump’s initial attempt to dismiss these lawsuits.

Not Quite a Victory

This ruling doesn’t present an unequivocal victory for those pursuing legal action against Trump. The panel repeatedly underscored the limited scope of their decision, leaving complex issues unresolved. Among these is the question of whether Trump’s 75-minute pre-riot speech, where he urged the crowd to “fight like hell” and “stop the steal,” was protected by the First Amendment.

While the appeals judges greenlit the progression of these lawsuits, they also acknowledged that Trump retains the option to argue that his actions were taken in his official capacity as president when he addressed the January 6 crowd. Moreover, the panel grappled with but did not reach a resolution on the intricate matter of distinguishing official presidential conduct from unofficial or a combination of both.

In the majority opinion authored by Srinivasan, it was posited that a president who engages in contentious official actions, possibly bordering on unlawfulness, is more deserving of immunity from private lawsuits compared to a president whose remarks blend politics and policy. The rationale behind this perspective was that immunity should be safeguarded when a president might abstain from undertaking official actions due to the threat of damages liability.

Under the court’s ruling, the case could return to a federal trial court, initially presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta, who determined in February 2022 that Trump could be sued for his January 6 remarks. However, prior to this course, Trump has the opportunity to challenge the immunity decision, either before the full bench of the D.C. Circuit or the Supreme Court.

This decision is poised to have repercussions on the federal criminal case against Trump, where he faces charges of attempting to subvert the 2020 election. Trump has previously maintained that his actions were within the scope of his official duties, seeking immunity from prosecution.

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This article was produced and syndicated by A Dime Saved.