An advertisement soliciting donations for former U.S. President Donald Trump is seen as it was introduced as evidence and displayed during the second public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, at Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S. June 13, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Donald Trump does not have immunity from civil lawsuits related to the U.S. Capitol riot, a federal appeals court panel unanimously ruled Friday.
The ruling does not say that Trump is liable for allegedly inciting, while president, the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress by a mob of his supporters, which injured more than 100 police officers.
But it raises the prospect that Trump might have to pay significant damages and legal fees from pending suits by some of those police officers and members of Congress, and potentially other lawsuits stemming from the insurrection.
The ruling came after Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, challenged the federal district court lawsuits filed against him.
He argued that his false claims that the election of President Joe Biden was the result of widespread ballot fraud were protected by official-act immunity he had by being president at the time.
“The President … does not spend every minute of every day exercising official responsibilities,” Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote in the opinion Friday for the three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
“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.”
Srinivasan noted that Trump did not dispute that he engaged in his alleged actions up to and on Jan. 6 in his capacity as a candidate.
“But he thinks that does not matter,” Srinivasan wrote.
“Rather, in his view, a President’s speech on matters of public concern is invariably an official function, and he was engaged in that function when he spoke at the January 6 rally and in the leadup to that day. We cannot accept that rationale.”
Srinivasan, who was appointed to his seat by former President Barack Obama, was joined in the ruling by Judge Judith Rogers and Judge Gregory Katsas.
Katsas was appointed by Trump and previously was a clerk for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Rogers was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Trump is already facing four pending criminal cases, two of which relate to his effort to reverse his loss to Biden in the 2020 election. The Jan. 6 riot disrupted for hours the confirmation of Biden’s victory by a joint session of Congress.
In New York, Trump is the target of a lawsuit by the state’s attorney general, who is seeking $250 million in damages for alleged business fraud.
Trump earlier this year was ordered by a federal civil jury to pay $5 million to writer E. Jean Carroll for sexually abusing her and defaming her. He faces a second trial for another, related lawsuit by Carroll, in early 2024.