Judge rules Trump must face civil suits over Jan. 6
Former President Trump must face the multiple civil lawsuits seeking to hold him liable for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a federal judge ruled on Friday, rejecting Trump’s efforts to dismiss the cases.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta issued a 112-page opinion rejecting the former president’s assertion that he has absolute immunity from the lawsuits because they concern his conduct while in office. But Mehta, an Obama appointee, said he was trying to strike a careful balance in respecting the legal shield afforded to sitting presidents’ official acts.
“To deny a President immunity from civil damages is no small step,” Mehta wrote. “The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent, and the court believes that its decision is consistent with the purposes behind such immunity.”
Mehta ruled that Trump could be sued for helping to incite the riot at the Capitol last year, because his efforts to undermine the 2020 election results, including his speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally just before the Capitol was breached, could not be considered official acts.
“After all, the President’s actions here do not relate to his duties of faithfully executing the laws, conducting foreign affairs, commanding the armed forces, or managing the Executive Branch,” Mehta wrote. “They entirely concern his efforts to remain in office for a second term. These are unofficial acts, so the separation-of-powers concerns that justify the President’s broad immunity are not present here.”
Mehta’s ruling came in a set of cases brought by U.S. Capitol Police officers and Democratic House members. One was filed by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Jan. 6 Select Committee, and another by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.).
The civil suits all brought claims against Trump under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a civil rights law that prohibits conspiracies against the federal government or to deprive people of their rights.
In his ruling, Mehta dismissed the cases against Rudy Giuliani, one of the figures that the plaintiffs alleged had participated in the conspiracy. He also narrowed the claims against Trump, but upheld the count brought under the Ku Klux Klan Act.
If Mehta’s decision stands, Trump and his allies could be deposed by the plaintiffs and subject to discovery demands.
An attorney representing Trump did not immediately respond when asked for comment.
The judge’s decision on Friday closely scrutinized Trump’s Jan. 6 speech to supporters outside the Capitol, in which he repeated his baseless claims of a stolen election and urged his followers to “fight like hell” against Congress certifying President Biden’s victory.
Mehta rejected Trump’s legal argument that the comments were protected under the First Amendment from the civil suits, finding that there’s reasonable evidence that suggests the then-president had incited a mob that day.
“President Trump’s January 6 Rally Speech was akin to telling an excited mob that corn-dealers starve the poor in front of the corn-dealer’s home,” Mehta wrote. “He invited his supporters to Washington, D.C., after telling them for months that corrupt and spineless politicians were to blame for stealing an election from them; retold that narrative when thousands of them assembled on the Ellipse; and directed them to march on the Capitol building—the metaphorical corn-dealer’s house—where those very politicians were at work to certify an election that he had lost.”
–Updated at 4:26 p.m.
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