An appellate court has determined that former President Donald Trump can be subjected to civil lawsuits for his role in the events of January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol. The court made its decision public on Friday.
This ruling came in response to a query about whether Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud and his call for supporters to convene at the Capitol and “fight like hell” fell outside his duties as president, potentially making him liable under existing U.S. Supreme Court guidelines.
The unanimous decision by a trio of judges on the panel concluded that Trump’s actions to challenge the 2020 election outcome were conducted as a presidential candidate, not in his official capacity as president.
Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia clarified in the ruling that campaign activities for re-election do not constitute official acts of a sitting president.
The judges pointed out that even Trump acknowledged his campaign activities as being in his personal capacity. This was evident from a motion he submitted to the Supreme Court as a re-election candidate, challenging the management of the election in key states.
While presidents are shielded from civil liabilities when performing official duties, this immunity does not extend to actions outside their presidential role, the court emphasized.
Srinivasan noted that a president is not perpetually engaged in official tasks. Therefore, actions beyond presidential duties do not afford them immunity from liability.
Two Capitol police officers and several Democratic members of Congress sued Trump in 2021 under a law dating back over a century. This law, initially enacted to counteract violence by the Ku Klux Klan post-Civil War, prohibits the use of force or intimidation to hinder government officials from performing their duties and permits those harmed by such acts to seek damages.
The lawsuit accuses Trump of inciting supporters to safeguard his presidency and conspiring with leaders of far-right groups to obstruct the certification of the 2020 election results.
The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, extremist groups with members convicted of seditious conspiracy linked to the Capitol incident, were also named in the lawsuit along with Trump and his long-time associate Rudy Giuliani.
The appeals court considered arguments from the plaintiffs and Trump’s legal team in December 2022. Trump’s lawyers contended that his remarks to his followers were part of his presidential duties.
In March, the Justice Department decided not to support Trump’s claim to immunity from civil lawsuits related to his actions on January 6, 2021.
With this ruling, the lawsuits seeking compensation for the emotional and physical harm resulting from the riot are now able to proceed.