Trump doesn't have presidential immunity from lawsuits over January 6, appeals court rules

The decision, making new law around the presidency, will have significant implications for several cases against Trump

ByAlexander Mallin ABCNews logo
Friday, December 1, 2023
6abc Philadelphia 24/7 Live Stream
Watch the 6abc Philadelphia 24/7 stream featuring Action News, AccuWeather and Entertainment

WASHINGTON -- The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a long-awaited ruling Friday determining that former PresidentDonald Trump can be sued for allegedly inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, rejecting his claims of absolute immunity.

The court's ruling emphasizes repeatedly that it only focuses on the singular issue of the former president's claim that he should be immune from any civil exposure because he was acting in his official capacity in the days leading up to and on Jan. 6.

The decision will now allow members of Congress and officers with the Capitol Police to move forward with a series of lawsuits filed against Trump that are seeking damages for harms they say they suffered as a result of the riot.

RELATED: Attorney warned Trump 'it's going to be a crime' if he ignored docs subpoena: Sources

"The sole issue before us is whether President Trump has demonstrated an entitlement to official-act immunity for his actions leading up to and on January 6 as alleged in the complaints," the court said in its ruling. "We answer no, at least at this stage of the proceedings. When a first-term President opts to seek a second term, his campaign to win re-election is not an official presidential act."

The court notes that while Trump was still in office trying to overturn his 2020 election loss, he actually recognized he was acting in his personal capacity as a presidential candidate when he filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit that was before the Supreme Court.

"In arguing that he is entitled to official-act immunity in the cases before us, President Trump does not dispute that he engaged in his alleged actions up to and on January 6 in his capacity as a candidate," they write. "But he thinks that does not matter. 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."

The court notes, however, that their ruling does not prevent Trump from attempting to raise claims of immunity as the civil lawsuits move forward. Instead, they say that at this stage where Trump has not yet taken a position on the factual allegations leveled against him in each lawsuit, they are rejecting his blanket attempt to claim every action was taken based on his role as the president.

The ruling is related solely to the civil lawsuits that were brought against Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, and not special counsel Jack Smith's federal criminal case that is set for trial in March.