Trump opts against Supreme Court appeal on civil immunity claim over Jan. 6 lawsuits

The decision not to seek high court review means cases brought against Trump over Jan. 6 can move forward in district court, although he can still mount an immunity defense.

Then-President Donald Trump speaks to supporters from the Ellipse near the White House on Jan. 6, 2021.Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images file
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WASHINGTON — Lawsuits seeking to hold Donald Trump personally accountable for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol can move forward after the former president chose not to take his broad immunity claim to the Supreme Court.

Trump had a Thursday deadline to file a petition at the Supreme Court contesting an appeals court decision from December that rejected his immunity arguments, but he did not do so.

The appeals court made it clear that Trump could still claim immunity later in the proceedings in three cases brought by Capitol Police officers and members of Congress.

"President Trump will continue to fight for presidential immunity all across the spectrum," said Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman.

The civil lawsuits against Trump are separate from the criminal case against him that also arose from Jan. 6. On Monday, Trump asked the justices to put that case on hold on immunity grounds.

Trump's lawyers argued that any actions he took on Jan. 6 fall under the scope of his responsibilities as president, thereby granting him immunity from civil liability. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected that argument, ruling that Trump was acting in his role as a political candidate running for office, not as president.

But the court added that when the cases move forward in district court, Trump "must be afforded the opportunity to develop his own facts on the immunity question" in order to show he was acting in his official capacity. He then could again seek to have the lawsuits dismissed, the court said.

“We look forward to moving on with proving our claims and getting justice for our Capitol Police officer clients who were injured defending our democracy from Defendant Trump,” said Kristy Parker, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the cases.

The lead plaintiff in the civil immunity case is James Blassingame, a Capitol Police officer who was injured in the Jan. 6 riot. Fellow plaintiffs in several lawsuits that were consolidated on appeal include lawmakers who were at the Capitol that day.

The legal arguments being made by Trump are similar to those he is making in his criminal case as he seeks to prevent a trial from taking place before the November election.

In rejecting Trump's immunity claim in the criminal case, a different panel of judges in the same appeals court did not directly address whether Trump's actions were official acts. The court instead assumed that they likely were official acts and found that, even then, Trump could not claim immunity.