In a landmark decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, led by Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, has determined that former President Donald Trump can be subject to civil litigation in relation to the January 6, 2021, Capitol breach. The ruling, which addresses suits filed by Capitol Police and lawmakers present during the incident, rejects Trump’s assertion of absolute immunity.
The plaintiffs in the case have accused Trump’s conduct, including his speech on January 6, as incendiary, directly contributing to the violence at the Capitol. Trump had sought to dismiss these allegations by invoking the immunity traditionally afforded to presidential actions.
However, Judge Srinivasan clarified that while the Supreme Court’s Nixon v. Fitzgerald decision does shield presidents from civil damages arising from their official duties, this immunity does not blanket every presidential action. Notably, Srinivasan emphasized that campaign-related activities, such as seeking re-election, fall outside the scope of official presidential functions.
Trump’s defense, which did not contest his role as a candidate during the events leading up to and on January 6, argued that any presidential speech on public matters automatically qualifies as an official act. However, the appeals court found this argument unconvincing, highlighting that a president, when acting in a private capacity or as a candidate, does not retain immunity from civil suits.
This ruling opens the possibility for Trump to face civil damages claims like any private citizen, particularly for actions deemed unrelated to the exercise of his presidential office. The decision marks a pivotal moment, underscoring that even presidential candidates are not beyond the reach of civil accountability for their actions.