Former President Donald Trump can be held civilly liable for the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, the federal appeals court in Washington D.C. ruled Friday.
The long-awaited decision came out of lawsuits brought by Capitol Police officers and Democrats in Congress. It could clear the way for lawsuits seeking financial damages from Trump, according to The Washington Post.
Trump did not immediately comment on the decision.
The appeals court acknowledged Friday that presidents are immune from civil lawsuits related to official acts that they take as part of their duties in office. However, Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan noted in the court’s opinion that the president “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 added.
The appeals court found that Trump was not acting in his official capacity while campaigning for a second term in office.
“So, when a sitting President running for a second term attends a private fundraiser for his re-election effort, hires (or fires) his campaign staff, cuts a political ad supporting his candidacy, or speaks at a campaign rally funded and organized by his re-election campaign committee, he is not carrying out the official duties of the presidency,” Srinivasan wrote in the court’s opinion.
“He is acting as office-seeker, not office-holder— no less than are the persons running against him when they take precisely the same actions in their competing campaigns to attain precisely the same office.”
Srinivasan noted that the court’s majority opinion was tied to factual allegations made by those seeking to bring civil cases against Trump and that the former president should be allowed the opportunity to present his own facts in regard to whether he acted in his official capacity as president and not in his unofficial capacity as a candidate for the presidency.
“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,” he added. “Nor do we have any occasion to address his other defenses.”
The opinion penned by Srinivasan — who was appointed by President Barack Obama — was joined in full by Trump appointee Judge Greg Katsas and joined in part by Judge Judith Rogers, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton. In her partially concurring opinion, Rogers said she agreed with the court’s “substantive legal analysis.”
“Because the remainder of the opinion is premature and unenforceable dictum, I don’t not join it,” she wrote.
The appellate court’s decision came nearly a year after the three-judge panel heard arguments over the Jan. 6 lawsuits — amounting to about three times as long as it typically takes the court to resolve an appeal, Politico reported.
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