On Friday, December 1st, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that former President Donald Trump is not immune from being held accountable in civil lawsuits related to the January 6th, 2021, United States Capitol riot. This decision, arising from lawsuits brought by Capitol Police officers and Democrats in Congress, has significant implications for several cases against Trump in the Washington, D.C., federal court related to the 2020 election.
In the ruling by Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, the opinion is that “not everything a president does or says while in office is protected from liability.” The court stated, “The president does not spend every minute of every day exercising official responsibilities. 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.”
The decision, which was unanimous among the three judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, allows three lawsuits against Trump from Capitol Police officers and several members of Congress seeking recovery from emotional distress and physical injury from the attack to move forward. Additionally, at least a half dozen other lawsuits against Trump may emerge from dormancy.
The appeals court’s decision may also influence how judges view arguments of immunity that Trump is making in his federal criminal case around the 2020 election, though the ruling only applies to civil cases. One lawsuit was filed by surviving Capitol Police officers and two lawsuits were brought by Democratic House members. They allege that Trump, in partnership with other individuals, conspired to “stop the congressional session that would certify the 2020 presidential election on January 6, 2021.”
Trump had argued in court that he was immune for anything he said while president, but the court found that this was not the case. They specified that the January 6th rally held by Trump that preceded the riot at the U.S. Capitol Building was potentially part of his campaign.
Former President Trump will still be able to contest the facts of the case as the lawsuits move forward.
This ruling marks a significant development in the ongoing legal challenges faced by the former president and underscores the limitations of presidential immunity, particularly in relation to actions deemed outside the scope of official presidential duties.