Trump can be sued for Jan 6 riots, says US court

December 02, 2023

WASHINGTON: A US federal appeals court ruled on Friday that former president Donald Trump can be sued over the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol that saw his supporters attempt to thwart certification of his election loss to Joe Biden.

Trump could now face civil action over the violent clashes which saw a mob overrun law enforcement at the nerve center of American democracy. More than 1,200 people have been arrested over the melee.

A US federal appeals court has ruled that former US president Donald Trump can face civil legal action over the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol. —AFP File

Two Capitol police officers along with several Democratic lawmakers sued Trump in 2021, alleging that he may have incited violence in his public comments to supporters before they descended on Capitol Hill.

Trump´s legal team had argued that, as president, he had immunity for his actions, including comments telling his supporters to “fight like hell” as Congress prepared to certify his election defeat.

“It is not that President Trump could not establish his entitlement to immunity... it is that he has not done so,” said the unanimous ruling by a panel of judges of the US Court of Appeals. The 77-year-old Trump is to go on trial in Washington in March on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the November 2020 election won by Biden.

Trump and his lawyers have argued that he is protected from both the lawsuit and the criminal charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith because of the absolute immunity conferred on a president for anything done as part of his official duties. Under US Supreme Court precedent, presidents can be held liable only for personal actions that fall beyond “the outer perimeter” of their responsibilities.

The question for the appellate court was whether claiming the election was stolen and telling his supporters to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” crossed that line. At a hearing nearly a year ago, the judges argued about how to distinguish between protected presidential speechmaking and unprotected personal agitating.

One judge, a Trump appointee who served in his administration, said during the December 2022 hearing that Trump’s case was complicated because the former president was plausibly accused of instigating violence in his message to supporters.