April 29, 2017

Trump claiming immunity in non-federal law suits

Vice - The president cannot face lawsuits related to what he does in an official capacity while in office, the Supreme Court has ruled in multiple cases. Instead, anyone who feels wronged by a presidential action needs to sue the U.S. government as a whole.

But what Trump did before he moved into the White House is fair game — for now. His legal team is trying to expand the legal exceptions already afforded to the president, potentially putting ongoing lawsuits against Trump in limbo.

“[His lawyers] are kind of just throwing every argument they have at the wall and seeing what sticks,” said Dan Mahafee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of the President and Congress. “They’re certainly looking for novel explanations.”

In a unanimous decision in Clinton v. Jones, the Supreme Court ruled that civil lawsuits brought against a president that are unrelated to his official actions can proceed.

“The argument was that this will not be a big problem for the president,” said George Edwards, a political science professor at Texas A&M University and editor of “Presidential Studies Quarterly.” “We have to just follow the normal routines of the law, and this will only take a small amount of the president’s time.”

Two weeks before Election Day, 75 ongoing lawsuits in both state and federal court named Trump as a defendant, according to USA Today. Political scientists and historians noted he was involved in more litigation than than any other presidential candidate in history.

Since taking office, Trump has settled several of these suits, including fraud claims against Trump University, the president’s now-defunct for-profit education company, and a contract dispute with celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian. One ongoing lawsuit, however, has gotten the lion’s share of the attention: Zervos v. Trump.

After Trump’s infamous “Grab ’em by the pussy” tape surfaced in October, Summer Zervos, a contestant on “The Apprentice” in 2007, came forward to accuse Trump, then host of the NBC reality series, of sexual assault. When Trump denied the allegations and called her a liar, Zervos slapped the president-elect with a defamation suit in New York, just four days before his inauguration.

Trump’s longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz responded with an argument that could reshape the powers of the presidency. He suggested that the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes the sovereignty of federal law above that of states, prevents the president from being sued in state court. Trump’s lawyers also claim he has complete immunity from a lawsuit brought by three protesters who allege Trump incited members of the crowd at a Louisville, Kentucky, campaign rally who then beat the protesters.

In Clinton v. Jones, the Supreme Court found that the president can’t claim immunity for his actions before taking office — but Jones originally brought the case in federal court. The justices didn’t rule out suing the president in state court, but they did raise concerns about that possibility in their decision.

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