A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that former President Donald Trump is not immune to facing civil lawsuits relating to the events on Jan. 6, 2021.
Sri Srinivasan, the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, wrote in a filing that Capitol Police officers and members of Congress who were at the U.S. Capitol that day have submitted cases seeking civil damages “for harms they allege they suffered arising from the riot,” with the sole defendant in the lawsuits being named as Trump.
“According to the plaintiffs, President Trump’s actions, including ultimately his speech on January 6, sparked the ensuing riot at the Capitol,” he said.
Srinivasan, who is part of a three-judge panel, said Trump has moved in the district court to dismiss the claims against him, “including on grounds of a President’s official-act immunity from damages liability.”
“The district court largely rejected his claim of immunity, and President Trump now appeals. 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,” Srinivasan wrote. “We answer no, at least at this state of the proceedings.”
Srinivasan said that “since the Supreme Court’s decision in Nixon v. Fitzgerald, Presidents have carried out their official responsibilities free from any exposure to civil damages liability” and that decision “established a President’s absolute immunity from civil damages claims predicated on his official acts.”
But he continued by saying that “the President, though, 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 from damages liability just because he happens to be the President.”
“When he acts in an unofficial, private capacity, he is subject to civil suits like any private citizen,” Srinivasan said.
He explained that when a “first-term President opts to seek a second term, his campaign to win re-election is not an official presidential act.”
Srinivasan also wrote that “in arguing that he is entitled to official-act immunity in the cases before us, President Trump does not dispute that he engaged in his alleged actions up to and on January 6 in his capacity as a candidate. But he thinks that does not matter.”
“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,” he concluded. “We cannot accept that rationale.”