In a long-anticipated and impactful decision, the federal appeals court in Washington, DC, has ruled that Former President Donald Trump can be sued in civil lawsuits connected to the January 6, 2021, US Capitol riot.
This decision carries significant ramifications for multiple cases against Trump in the Washington, DC federal court, particularly those related to the 2020 election. The ruling, articulated by Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, emphasizes that not all actions or statements made by a president during their term are shielded from legal consequences.
The opinion asserts that a president does not enjoy absolute immunity for actions undertaken outside official duties, stating, “And when he acts outside the functions of his office, he does not continue to enjoy immunity. … When he acts in an unofficial, private capacity, he is subject to civil suits like any private citizen.”
Unanimously agreed upon by the three judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, this decision opens the door for three lawsuits against Trump by Capitol Police officers and Congress members, seeking redress for emotional distress and physical injury resulting from the Capitol attack. Additionally, it potentially revived several other lawsuits against Trump that had been dormant. These legal actions primarily rely on a federal law prohibiting conspiracies to prevent someone from holding national office.
While Trump can pursue further appeals, this decision allows the three specific lawsuits to progress. Two of these were initiated by Democratic House members, while Capitol Police officers filed the third.
The court’s decision distinguishes between campaign speech and official actions of the presidency, rejecting Trump’s claim of immunity for anything said during his presidency. The ruling recognizes that certain campaign-related activities, like the January 6 Trump rally preceding the Capitol riot, may be considered part of his campaign and not official presidential functions.
Trump still has the opportunity to challenge the facts of the case as it advances, and the court acknowledges that he may present additional arguments around immunity before the lawsuits enter the extensive evidence-gathering phases.
In response, a spokesman for Trump’s reelection campaign characterized the opinion as “limited, narrow, and procedural,” emphasizing that the events of January 6 were in line with the former president’s duties.
Lawyers representing Capitol Police officers and Democratic members of Congress welcomed the decision, considering it a crucial step towards holding Trump accountable for the events of January 6. They expressed optimism about moving closer to justice and accountability for the individuals affected by the Capitol riot.