Challenging Presidential Immunity: Legal Ramifications for Trump’s Actions on January 6

On December 1, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously rejected Donald Trump’s attempt to dismiss multipe suits filed against him for his conduct on January 6 on grounds of presidential immunity. Specifically, the Court in Blassingame v. Trump affirmed the district court decision denying Donald Trump’s motion to dismiss various federal and D.C. law-based claims filed against him seeking recovery for physical damages and emotional distress allegedly caused by his incitement of the riot at the Capitol. The opinion for the panel, by Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, is a careful and reasoned exploration of the law of presidential immunity. It is also quite narrow, in that it does not determine whether the claims filed agaisnt Trump will or can ultimately succeed. Judge Greg Katsas joined the opinon in full, and Judge Judith Rogers concurred in part. Judge Srinivasan’s introduction, which begins after the jump, nicely summarizes the law of presidential immunity and describes the “objective” text for whether a President’s conduct—and, in this case, his speech—is cloaked with immunity. This approach strikes as quite sound, and directly in line with the few Supreme Court precedents to bear on this question. (And for those who care about such things, was joined in full by an Obama and Trump nominee, and in part by a Clinton nominee.) The opinion begins: Judge Katsas concurred separately, stressing the narrowness of the court’s deicsion and the flexibility of the court’s test. As both opinions note, whether a President is a immune does not depend upon the President’s intent or the political significance of a president’s actions or remarks. Rather it is based upon an “objective” inquiry into the context of the President’s speech. Further,  the Court rejected both the broad claims of presidential immunity asserted by former President Trump, as well as the unduly stingy tests offered by the plaintiffs and the federal government. Judge Rogers wrote separately, concurring only in part, on the grounds that she thought the opinion extended beyond what was necessary to affirm the district court’s denial of the motion to dismiss.