According to a report from Associated Press on Sunday, December 24, 2024, former President Donald Trump’s lawyers have asked a federal appeals court to dismiss the four-count indictment charging him with plotting to overturn the 2020 election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden, arguing that he is immune from prosecution for his actions.
In a brief filed late Saturday night with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Trump’s attorneys said that he was acting within his role as president when he pressed claims about “alleged fraud and irregularity” in the election, and that he was exercising his constitutional right to free speech and petition.
They also said that the indictment of Trump is unprecedented in American history and represents a dangerous assault on the separation of powers and the independence of the executive branch.
They claimed that the indictment of Trump threatens to launch cycles of recrimination and politically motivated prosecution that will plague the nation for many decades to come and stands likely to shatter the very bedrock of the republic — the confidence of American citizens in an independent judicial system.
The brief said that the “historical fallout is tremendous” from the indictment, which accuses Trump of inciting the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, obstructing Congress, conspiring to interfere with state election officials, and soliciting campaign contributions in exchange for favorable treatment.
The brief argued that Trump’s actions were protected by the presidential immunity doctrine, which shields the president from civil and criminal liability for official acts.
The brief cited several Supreme Court cases that recognized the doctrine, such as Nixon v. Fitzgerald, which held that the president is immune from civil damages for actions within the “outer perimeter” of his official responsibilities.
The brief also cited Clinton v. Jones, which held that the president is not immune from civil suits for unofficial acts, but suggested that the case was distinguishable because it involved a private matter unrelated to the president’s duties.
The brief contended that Trump’s actions were within the scope of his official duties, as he was seeking to ensure the integrity of the election and the peaceful transfer of power.
The brief also argued that Trump’s actions were protected by the First Amendment, as he was expressing his opinion and petitioning the government for redress of grievances.
The brief cited several cases that affirmed the right of political speech and advocacy, such as Brandenburg v. Ohio, which held that the government cannot punish speech unless it is likely to incite imminent lawless action.
The brief also cited Citizens United v. FEC, which held that the government cannot restrict political spending by corporations and unions, and McCutcheon v. FEC, which held that the government cannot limit the aggregate amount of contributions that an individual can make to candidates and parties.
The brief asserted that Trump’s speech and actions were not likely to incite violence, and that he did not directly or indirectly solicit any unlawful conduct.
The brief urged the appeals court to reverse a lower court ruling that denied Trump’s motion to dismiss the indictment, and to quash the indictment as a violation of his constitutional rights.
The appeals court has not yet scheduled oral arguments in the case, which is one of several legal challenges that Trump faces as he tries to fend off criminal and civil investigations into his conduct and finances.