Former President Trump can be sued over his alleged incitement of violence ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol protest, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
Mr. Trump had claimed his words were protected by the First Amendment and presidential immunity after he faced lawsuits from injured police officers and members of Congress over the Jan. 6 demonstration. He had asked the court to reject the lawsuits.
But a three-judge panel at the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia ruled he could be sued in civil court over claims he incited violence, tossing aside the former president’s argument that he couldn’t be sued for his speech — at least at this stage of litigation.
“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,” wrote Judge Sir Srinivasan, an Obama appointee. “When he acts in an unofficial, private capacity, he is subject to civil suits like any private citizen.”
The court noted it was not opining on the merits and only simply rejecting the former president’s claim of immunity at this stage of the litigation. The court noted Mr. Trump could make more arguments as the cases proceed.
“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,” Judge Srinivasan wrote.
Judges Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee, and Gregory George Katsas, a Trump appointee, joined the ruling.
Judge Katsas said a trial or further proceedings would be necessary to evaluate the scope of Mr. Trump’s speech and whether it was entitled to immunity — but that couldn’t be settled at the summary judgment stage as Mr. Trump was requesting.
Mr. Trump could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.