U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta Set to Rule on Trump’s Demands of ‘Absolute Immunity’ in Jan. 6 Civil Lawsuits
- In a Jan. 10 hearing, the Indian American demands that defendants “stick to facts,” and not indulge in “whataboutism,” to delve into whether the former president’s actions and statements incited the violence.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia is faced with making one of the most consequential rulings of his career which will have far-reaching consequences for American democracy and even the constitution of the United States.
He is presiding over a legal battle between former President Donald Trump and Democrat lawmakers and law enforcement officials to adjudicate Trump’s claim of “absolute immunity” in civil lawsuits accusing him of instigating the Capitol riot last year.
At the Jan. 10 hearing, Mehta questioned Trump’s demands that the lawsuits from Democratic lawmakers and U.S. Capitol Police officers should be thrown out because a president’s speech and actions while in office is completely protected from civil action. During the hearing, Mehta, an Obama appointee, wondered if Trump’s silence on Jan. 6 “while a violent mob ransacked the Capitol could be plausibly construed as agreement with rioters’ actions,” Politico reported.
One of the lawsuits against Trump is filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.); while another is brought by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House select committee probing the Jan. 6 riot. He was later joined in the lawsuit by 10 of his House Democratic colleagues. A third lawsuit was filed by U.S. Capitol Police officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby, who argue that Trump should be held liable for the damages inflicted by the rioters.
The other defendants include Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, his son Donald Trump Jr., Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) as well as the right-wing organizations Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.
Although the cases have been on file for more than nine months, Politico says the Jan. 10 hearing was “the first substantive one on the issues involved.” During the course of the hearing and the back-and-forth that ensued, the Gujarat-born Mehta questioned Trump’s claims and asked if there is “anything the president could say while president of the United States that could subject him to civil suits?”
Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers argued that he can’t be legally punished for inaction, The Hill reported. “The defendants raised numerous arguments for why the lawsuits should be thrown out, including First Amendment claims that their remarks ahead of the riot were protected speech,” added the report.
Mehta heard the various arguments to dismiss the cases. The Hill reported that “while he [Mehta] appeared skeptical of Trump’s immunity claim, the judge did not entirely tip his hand on whether he intends to allow the lawsuits to proceed.”
When Trump’s lawyer Jesse Binnall pushed back against the assertion that the former president could face legal consequences for action he didn’t take, Politico reported that Mehta responded that Binnall’s statement was “outweighed” by Trump’s earlier calls to “fight like hell” against the 2020 election results. Noting that there was no doubt “threats” and “intimidation” were used on the day of the insurrection, Mehta said “the main question was whether Trump’s actions and statements incited the violence. Let’s stick with the facts” he said, adding that he wasn’t “interested” in “whataboutism.”
Politico notes that “the back-and-forth was potentially the most significant in an explosive — and lengthy — hearing on three lawsuits filed against Trump for his actions leading up to and on Jan. 6.”
It’s unclear when Mehta will issue his ruling.
Who is Amit Mehta?
The Patan, Gujarat-born Mehta, who immigrated to the U.S. at age one, with his parents, Priyavadan Mehta, an engineer and Ragini Mehta, a lab technician, was raised outside of Baltimore, Maryland.
He was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by then-President Barack Obama in 2014, becoming the first Asian Pacific American appointment there. Before that he worked mainly for Zuckerman Spaeder LLP., a boutique law firm in D.C., where he focused on criminal prosecutions and investigations, representing a slew of high-profile clients.
He served as a staff attorney for the District of Columbia Public Defender Service from 2002 to 2007. He also previously worked for the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP and clerked for Judge Susan Graber of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, according to his DC District Court biography. He graduated from Georgetown University and the University of Virginia School of Law.
Last October, was assigned the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Google. The Justice Department on Oct. 23, 2020, sued Google over allegations that its search and advertising empire violated federal antitrust laws.
In 2019, Mehta issued a 41-page opinion calling for a long-standing accounting firm for Trump to turn over records demanded by the House Oversight Committee. Mehta’s ruling saying Congress was within its authority to demand the records as it investigates the President comes as Trump bucks demand from Congress for documents and testimony. The decision brought the ire of Trump on Mehta, as he slammed it as a “crazy decision by an Obama appointed judge.”
Early in his tenure on the federal bench, Mehta made waves with a case in which the Federal Trade Commission was seeking to block the proposed merger of the nation’s two largest food distributors, Sysco Corp. and US Foods. He issued an injunction blocking the deal, saying in a 128-page ruling that the tie-up was the type of large combination that spurred Congress, decades earlier, to give the government the power to halt mergers. Sysco abandoned the transaction days later.
The National Law Journal’s Minority 40 Under 40 list honored Mehta in 2011 and Benchmark Litigation named him a “Future Star” for 2011 and 2012. He is married to Caroline Judge Mehta, a partner in a Washington litigation firm. The couple has two children.