Former President Trump flailed and moaned after the November 2020 election — a tantrum of proportions so huge, a federal judge says, that he won’t get the legal immunity that typically protects presidents from lawsuits.
The ruling came from a familiar place: U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan for the District of Columbia, who held in a Monday opinion that Trump could face civil suit over his attempts to block the 2020 election.
Sullivan loomed large during the Trump years as he oversaw the prosecution, guilty plea, reverse guilty plea, and investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser.
Now the first of several civil rights lawsuits brought against Trump for his attempt to subvert the 2020 elections is before Sullivan.
In the Monday ruling, Sullivan held that the lawsuit, brought by the NAACP and a Michigan group that advocates for low-income people, could proceed — in part because Sullivan found Trump’s actions to be so outrageous that the immunity that’s generally offered to presidents for actions taken in office can be pierced.
“If Former President Trump disrupted the certification of the electoral vote count, as Plaintiffs allege here, such actions would not constitute executive action in defense of the Constitution,” wrote U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan for the District of Columbia in a Monday ruling. “For these reasons, the Court concludes that Former President Trump is not immune from monetary damages in this suit.”
Sullivan cited an ongoing prosecution of a January 6 rioter allegedly affiliated with the Proud Boys in his ruling, stating what may seem obvious but apparently needs clarification: That a president “cannot, within the confines of his constitutional authority, prevent the constitutionally mandated certification of the results of a Presidential Election or encourage others to do so on his behalf, nor can he direct an assault on the coequal Legislative branch of government.”
Sullivan’s ruling marks a significant point in civil litigation over the 2020 subversion attempt, allowing a former president to be held civilly accountable for actions taken in office.
It goes to a question that has plagued the cases since they were filed: Did Trump go so far in the run-up to January 6 and after that the normal protections that cover the President, and other government workers, no longer apply?
One other judge, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta for the District of Columbia, already ruled earlier this year that Trump had to face civil lawsuits over the insurrection attempt. Trump appealed that ruling, which is currently before the D.C. Circuit.
The suit before Sullivan accuses Trump of trying to disenfranchise voters by conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.
“Immunity does not protect acts that Former President Trump undertook outside the outer perimeter of his official duties,” Sullivan wrote in his Monday ruling.
He added, citing rulings in other civil rights cases brought against Trump for the election subversion efforts, that “there is no immunity defense for Former President Trump for ‘unofficial acts’ which ‘entirely concern his efforts to remain in office for a second term.'”
Sullivan added that part of the reason why the groups could proceed with their lawsuits is because Trump remains an active threat. Not only does he continue to lie about the 2020 and 2022 elections, Sullivan wrote, but he’s reveling in doing so.
“Plaintiffs extensively allege the efforts of Former President Trump and his allies as recently as March 2022 to get state officials to overturn the election results; to endorse and provide financial support to candidates for office who supported his false claims of election fraud; all while fundraising for the 2024 Presidential Election,” Sullivan wrote.
Read the ruling here: