February 19, 2022
A federal judge has rejected efforts by former President Donald Trump to toss out conspiracy lawsuits filed by lawmakers and two Capitol police officers, saying in his ruling that the former president’s words “plausibly” led to the riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta said in his Friday ruling that Trump’s words during a rally before the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol were likely “words of incitement not protected by the First Amendment.”
“Only in the most extraordinary circumstances could a court not recognize that the First Amendment protects a President’s speech,” Mehta wrote. “But the court believes this is that case.”
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During a planned rally on the Ellipse just hours before Congress was to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, Trump told his supporters to “Fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He said, “(We’re) going to try to and give (weak Republicans) the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country,” and then told the crowd to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Mehta said Trump’s speech could have directed people to break the law. But the judge dismissed similar charges made against Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and lawyer Rudy Giuliani, saying their speech was protected by the First Amendment. Mehta did not yet rule on another motion to dismiss from Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, also named in the suits.
Lawyer Joseph Sellers, who along with the NAACP is representing that group of House Democrats, said the ruling was “a major victory for the rule of law, and demonstrates just how important the courts are for ensuring accountability.