Dec 1, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump, not acting in presidential capacity on Jan. 6, can be sued, court rules

Trump waves while walking

Former President Trump waves during halftime at the Palmetto Bowl between Clemson and South Carolina on Nov. 25. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Former President Trump can be sued over his alleged role in inciting violence in the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

Why it matters: The 2024 presidential candidate would not be protected by presidential immunity regarding remarks made before the attack because his re-election campaign was "not an official presidential act," a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held.

  • "The Office of the Presidency as an institution is agnostic about who will occupy it next," Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote. "And campaigning to gain that office is not an official act of the office."

Context: Presidential immunity doesn't extend to unofficial actions, the court said, turning to precedent set in former immunity lawsuits, including one against former President Bill Clinton by then-Arkansas state employee Paula Jones over sexual advances.

  • "When he acts in an unofficial, private capacity, he is subject to civil suits like any private citizen," Srinivasan wrote.

Zoom out: Trump faced federal charges for using false claims of election fraud to subvert the results of the 2020 election, including delaying certification on Jan. 6, 2021.

  • Trump's lawyers had cited presidential immunity to dismiss these charges.
  • "When a sitting president acts in his capacity as a candidate for re-election, he acts as an office-seeker, not an office-holder," Srinivasan wrote.

What's next: Trump could continue to try to prove that his actions relating to Jan. 6 were conducted in his presidential capacity, Politico reported.

Go deeper: Trump shouldn't have immunity in E. Jean Carroll defamation suit, DOJ says

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