An appeals court in Washington, DC, has ruled that former President Donald Trump lacks presidential immunity in lawsuits related to the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. The decision, authored by Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, emphasizes that actions taken outside the official duties of the presidency are not shielded from civil suits. This ruling has significant implications for ongoing cases against Trump, particularly those filed by Capitol Police officers and Congressional Democrats.
The unanimous decision by the three judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals allows three lawsuits, seeking redress for emotional distress and physical injury resulting from the Capitol attack, to proceed. While Trump retains the option to pursue further appeals, this ruling opens the door for additional lawsuits to potentially emerge. The cases hinge on a federal law prohibiting conspiracies to prevent someone from holding federal office.
The decision distinguishes between campaign speech and official presidential actions, stating that not all statements made during a campaign event are immune. Trump’s argument for immunity based on his status as president during the Capitol riot was rejected, as the court asserted that his actions were more aligned with a campaign effort than official presidential functions.
The lawsuits were brought by Democratic House members and Capitol Police officers, alleging that Trump played a role in a conspiracy to disrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election. The appeals court’s decision, while specific to civil cases, may influence how judges consider immunity arguments in Trump’s federal criminal case related to the 2020 election.
Despite the ruling, Trump still has the opportunity to contest the facts of the case as the lawsuits progress. The court’s decision is described as flexible and cautious, allowing for potential arguments around immunity in subsequent phases of the legal process. Trump’s reelection campaign spokesperson downplayed the significance of the opinion, characterizing it as “limited, narrow, and procedural.”
Meanwhile, lawyers representing Capitol Police officers and Democratic plaintiffs welcomed the decision, seeing it as a step toward accountability for Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. They expressed optimism about moving closer to justice and holding Trump responsible for attempting to subvert democracy.
“Today’s ruling makes clear that those who endanger our democracy and the lives of those sworn to defend it will be held to account,” attorney Patrick Malone said in a statement following the ruling on Friday. “Our clients look forward to pursuing their claims in court.”