In a libel case launched by writer E. Jean Carroll over the former president’s rejection of her claim that he raped her in a New York department store dressing room in the 1990s, a federal appeals court gave Donald Trump a partial victory on Tuesday.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found in a split decision that a lower court judge erred when he said that Trump, as president, was not protected by a federal statute that can be invoked to protect government employees from liability for occurrences related to their work.
In an effort to end the defamation case Carroll brought in 2019 resulting from statements Trump made denying that he raped Carroll, including the assertion that “She’s not my type,” the Justice Department finally invoked the Westfall Act under Trump. When it reiterated its earlier position that Trump was essentially immune from suit because he was acting within the scope of his duties when he answered media inquiries about the alleged rape at the Bergdorf Goodman in 1995 or 1996, the Justice Department caused controversy last year under President Joe Biden.
In its decision on Tuesday, the majority of the three-judge federal appeals court panel requested the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, a local court in Washington, to weigh in on whether Trump’s statements qualify as the kind of behaviour that employers may be held accountable for under D.C. law. If not, Trump can be held personally liable for any damages decided upon.
According to the majority judgement of the 2nd Circuit, there is “manifest doubt” regarding the circumstances under which what the law considers an intentional act, such as libel or slander, is regarded as a component of an employee’s obligations.
Judge Guido Calabresi, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, stated in an opinion that the District’s case law “has, thus, appeared to vacillate between a narrow view of scope of employment that requires evidence that an intentional tort benefit—or be for the purpose of benefiting—the employer, and a more modern, broader view of scope of employment that would hold that any intentional tort that is a part of the risks of an employer’s activity falls within the scope of employment.”
Denny Chin, the third judge, voiced his disagreement. He concurred with Carroll’s attorneys that the president is simply not covered by the statute that shields government workers from wrongdoing. Additionally, he said that at least some of Trump’s remarks were unrelated to his official obligations.
Because he was not advancing any federal government agenda, Chin claimed that Trump was not acting within the bounds of his employment when he made remarks regarding Carroll and her allegations. The statement “she’s not my type” in the context of a rape accusation is undoubtedly not something that one would anticipate the President of the United States to utter while performing his job. The accusations against Carroll, the court said, “plausibly portray a picture of a man pursuing a personal vendetta against an accuser, not the United States’ “top constitutional official” performing “supervisory and policy tasks of utmost delicacy and sensitivity.”
President Barack Obama’s appointee Chin argued that the Justice Department’s claims that a president may assert immunity for nearly every speech made to the press were overly general. The judge also chose some illustrative instances of things that a president could theoretically be held accountable for.
If that were the case, then anything a President did or said would be rendered ineffective by the mere presence of others, as no President could be held responsible for harm done while speaking into a microphone or during an official meeting, whether it involved slandering a citizen, disclosing sensitive national security information, or inciting a riot. This should not be the law, according to Chin.
The Justice Department, Trump’s personal counsel, or Carroll’s legal team could request a rehearing from the 2nd Circuit’s full bench or petition the Supreme Court to hear the case. The case will certainly go through many more months, if not years, of litigation. They might also wait to see what stance the D.C. Court of Appeals adopts in that time.
A Justice Department representative was unable to respond right away. However, a Trump attorney applauded the choice.
We are really happy with the Second Circuit’s ruling today, according to lawyer Alina Habba. “This choice will ensure that all future presidents may govern without obstacles in an efficient manner. We are sure that the D.C. Court of Appeals will decide that our client correctly refuted Ms. Carroll’s charges while acting within the bounds of his employment.
Chin’s opposing opinion was praised by Carroll attorney Roberta Kaplan, who called it “strong.” She said in a statement that she was “confident” the D.C. appeals court would concur that Trump’s comments had nothing to do with his position.
Since Carroll has said she intends to bring a new lawsuit in November that specifically accuses Trump of rape and demands damages for the alleged attack itself, Trump may find Carroll’s libel complaint of secondary importance. A new state law in New York that will go into effect in November will enable plaintiffs like Carroll to pursue sex crime lawsuits in civil court instead of waiting the 20 years required by the statute of limitations.