A recent ruling by a federal appeals court has determined that former President Donald Trump is not shielded from civil lawsuits connected to the events of January 6, 2021.
Sri Srinivasan, the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, authored a filing on Wednesday, stating that Capitol Police officers and members of Congress present at the U.S. Capitol during the riot have filed cases seeking civil damages. These cases name Trump as the sole defendant.
“According to the plaintiffs, President Trump’s actions, including ultimately his speech on January 6, sparked the ensuing riot at the Capitol,” Srinivasan said. He elaborated that Trump has attempted to dismiss these claims in the district court, citing a president’s official-act is free from damages liability.
However, the district court largely rejected his claim of immunity, prompting Trump to appeal. Srinivasan clarified, “The sole issue before us is whether President Trump has demonstrated an entitlement to official-act immunity for his actions leading up to and on January 6 as alleged in the complaints. We answer no, at least at this state of the proceedings.”
Srinivasan referenced the Supreme Court’s decision in Nixon v. Fitzgerald, which established a president’s absolute immunity from civil damages claims based on official acts. However, he noted that a president does not always act within the scope of official responsibilities.
“When he acts outside the functions of his office, he does not continue to enjoy immunity from damages liability just because he happens to be the President,” Srinivasan explained. He further stated that a president’s campaign for reelection is not an official presidential act.
In the cases at hand, Srinivasan mentioned that Trump does not dispute his actions up to and on January 6 were in his capacity as a candidate.
“Rather, in his view, a President’s speech on matters of public concern is invariably an official function, and he was engaged in that function when he spoke at the January 6 rally and in the leadup to that day. We cannot accept that rationale,” he concluded.
This ruling marks a significant moment, as it addresses the extent of a president’s immunity in relation to actions that may not be considered official duties. The decision opens the door for the civil lawsuits against Trump to proceed, setting a precedent for how presidents can face legal consequences for their actions — even those not directly tied to their official capacities.
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