On Friday, a Federal Appeals Court in Washington D.C. issued a ruling against former President Donald Trump, saying in part that he is not protected by any immunity from lawsuits relating to the events of January 6th, 2021. The very consequential decision against the former president came down from the court this morning and will most likely have damning effects on Trump’s campaign and financial future.
Several cases related to January 6 have been filed against Trump, his political allies, and his family, but they have yet to play out in court. This ruling will most likely have very significant effects on these cases, as it changes the landscape for who can sue and for what damages.
The decision by the court is stemming from several lawsuits that have been brought against Trump by Democratic members of Congress and Capital Police Officers. The decision by the court today will also heavily influence the criminal cases against Trump.
Judges noted in the 3-0 ruling that they’re ruling against Trump “at this stage in the proceeding” and the ex-president will still have a further chance to make his case, but struck down Trump’s claims that he has presidential immunity because he was trying to overturn the 2020 election while he was president, even though his actions were as a political candidate, rather than an official part of his presidential duties.
Trump’s campaign activities — like trying to overturn the election results, which plaintiffs argue incited the Jan. 6 riot — were undertaken “in an unofficial, private capacity as office-seeker, not an official capacity as office-holder,” the court ruled, adding that “actions taken in an unofficial capacity cannot qualify for official-act immunity.”
The ruling, though very concerning and probably damaging to Trump, is not the final straw for him in his legal battles. The Court, in their majority opinion, stated as much, in part that Trump will still have the chance to argue his side of the grievance and could be successful down the line.
Because our decision is not necessarily even the final word on the issue of presidential immunity, we of course express no view on the ultimate merits of the claims against President Trump. Nor do we have any occasion to address his other defenses, including his claim that his alleged actions fall within the protections of the First Amendment because they did not amount to incitement of imminent lawless action: he did not seek appellate review at this time of the district court’s denial of his First Amendment defense, but he could bring that issue before us in the future. We also do not opine on whether executive or other privileges might shield certain evidence from discovery or use as the litigation proceeds. Nor does our decision on a President’s official-act immunity from damages liability in a civil suit treat with whether or when a President might be immune from criminal prosecution.
The consensus is that while today’s decision by the Court is damaging, and could have severe consequences for him and his allies, Trump will have several more opportunities to argue his “immunity” case in all of his legal fights that lay ahead.