- His ruling could have significant implications for civil lawsuits seeking to hold him accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection.
For the past year, Democratic lawmakers and law enforcement officials have been engaged in a legal battle with former President Donald Trump over his role in instigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on Capitol Hill. Now, an Indian American judge’s recent ruling rejecting Trump’s claim of “absolute immunity” from the lawsuits, could have significant implications on the former president as it allows for the three civil lawsuits seeking to hold him accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection to move forward in court.
In a 112-page opinion issued on Feb. 18, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta analyzed Trump’s 75-minute speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021, and outlined how the former president could conceivably be responsible for inciting the attack that followed. He said Trump’s own words and conduct in falsely alleging a “stolen” election were not immune on separation-of-powers grounds as they only served his personal aim of retaining office.
According to the ruling, Trump’s statements leading up to and on Jan. 6 were “an implicit call for imminent violence or lawlessness,” when he implored thousands gathered “to fight like hell,” immediately before directing the march to the Capitol. The president’s Jan. 6 rally speech “can reasonably be viewed as a call for collective action,” Mehta wrote.
“To deny a president immunity from civil damages is no small step,” the Obama nominee wrote, noting that “the court well understands the gravity of its decision,” and adding that the alleged facts of this case “are without precedent.” He said 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. 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.”
Writing that “sitting presidents are generally immune from being sued for their official actions,” Mehta said Trump’s tweets urging his supporters to come to Washington to support his election lies, followed by his rally speech which set in motion the march on the attack that ensued, did not fall under that umbrella. “Based on these allegations, it is reasonable to infer that before January 6th the president would have known about the power of his words and that, when asked, some of his supporters would do as he wished.
Mehta said Trump and his attorneys had made a “misleading” and “wrong” argument that his conduct was covered by a section of the Constitution that empowers presidents to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” A president had no power over Congress’s certification of the Electoral College results or the vice president’s role in those proceedings as the president of the Senate.”
Mehta’s ruling on what he calls a “one-of-a-kind case” sets up a rare instance where the former President could face concrete consequences for the insurrection. The New York Times notes that the ruling “could have further implications, including creating a new avenue to subpoena Trump.”
The New York Times notes that to date Trump has not faced a subpoena from either the Justice Department or the House committee investigating the Capitol riot. But the Feb. 18 ruling “created the likelihood that Trump would have to provide documents to the plaintiffs or even sit for a deposition,” the Times said. “If ultimately found liable, Trump could also be on the hook for financial damages.”
Along with Trump, Judge Mehta allowed the lawsuits to go ahead against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. He, however, ruled in favor of three of Trump’s close allies — his attorney Rudy Giuliani, his son Donald Trump Jr. and Republican Rep. Mo Brooks R-Ala.), saying he would dismiss the claims against them, according to the New York Times.