A judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on February 18th that three civil lawsuits aimed at holding former president Donald Trump accountable for the deadly attack on the Capitol can move forward.
Trump had sought to dismiss the lawsuits, claiming, in part, that the First Amendment bars the plaintiffs from suing him, and that his conduct was protected because he was a sitting president at the time.
In his 112 page opinion, Judge Amit Mehta focused on Trump’s speech prior to the attack on the Capitol, writing, “President Trump’s January 6 Rally Speech was akin to telling an excited mob that corn-dealers starve the poor in front of the corn-dealer’s home. He invited his supporters to Washington, D.C., after telling them for months that corrupt and spineless politicians were to blame for stealing an election from them; retold that narrative when thousands of them assembled on the Ellipse; and directed them to march on the Capitol building—the metaphorical corn-dealer’s house—where those very politicians were at work to certify an election that he had lost.”
Mehta characterizes Trump’s rally speech on January 6 as a “call for collective action.” “The President’s regular use of the word ‘we’ is notable. To name just a few examples: ‘We will not take it anymore’; ‘We will ‘stop the steal’; ‘We will never give up”; ‘We will never concede’; ‘We will not take it anymore,…’We’ used repeatedly in this context implies that the President and rally-goers would be acting together towards a common goal. That is the essence of a civil conspiracy,” the judge wrote.
Mehta also stated that his decision to allow the suits to move forward to the evidence-collecting phase was not made lightly. “To deny a President immunity from civil damages is no small step,” he wrote. “The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent.”