Dec 13, 2023 - Politics & Policy

SCOTUS takes up Jan. 6 case that may affect Trump prosecution

A mob of Trump supporters waving flags during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

A mob of Trump supporters waving flags during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear an appeal brought by a man charged with obstructing an official proceeding for participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The case before the high court has implications for former President Trump, who received the same charge in his 2020 election interference case.

  • The court's decision to weigh in on the matter could threaten the March 4 start date for Trump's election inference trial, as it may take months for the justices to hear oral arguments and issue a ruling on the case.
  • How the court rules could also upend cases for hundreds of other Jan. 6 defendants, as well.

Catch up quick: The appeal was from Joseph Fischer, a patrolman with the North Cornwall Township Police Department who was charged with obstructing an official proceeding for entering the Capitol on the day Congress met to certify President Biden's victory in the 2020 election.

  • Fischer was also charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers, entering a restricted building without authority, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol ground, civil Disorder and two other counts.
  • Two other Jan. 6 defendants charged with obstructing an official proceeding brought similar legal challenges over the charge.

Driving the news: At issue is the application and definition of 18 U.S.C. 1512(c), which outlaws efforts to "corruptly" obstruct, influence or impede any official proceeding, which carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

  • U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, dismissed that specific charge against Fischer and the two other defendants in 2022, saying it only can apply to defendants who disrupted official proceedings by tampering with "document, record or other object."
  • Nichols held that the statute cannot apply to "assaultive conduct," such as assaulting law enforcement officials, which are crimes outlawed by other statutes.

The dismissal was then reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a split decision.

  • The three-judge panel ruled that Nichols' interpretation of the law was too limited and that the statute should apply to all forms of actions meant to obstruct an official proceeding.

The big picture: More than 300 people have been charged with obstructing an official proceeding for actions during the attack on the Capitol, according to the Department of Justice.

Go deeper: Jack Smith asks Supreme Court to weigh Trump's immunity argument

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