Saturday, January 15, 2022
107 Iowa L. Rev. Online 151 (2022)
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Abstract

D.C. Circuit Court Judge Amit Mehta’s ruling in Thompson v. Trump denying immunity to ex-President Donald Trump in actions brought against him by a variety of plaintiffs for inciting the January 6th insurrection offered a moment of relief to the left side of the Great Partisan Divide in these dark times. Mr. Trump could finally be held responsible for a bit of the havoc he wreaked.

The author advises not to celebrate too quickly. The Supreme Court—in the great likelihood that the case ends up there—may not see eye to eye with Judge Mehta. Two issues will be central to the High Court’s analysis and to this Essay. The first is whether the ex-President’s remarks fell outside of the Court’s “capacious” view of the “outer perimeter” of presidential functions. The second issue as to whether his speech that day falls under the long-standing Brandenburg exception to free speech presents a minefield of perplexing, previously unidentified issues that threaten consistency in the decisions it produces. The author brings each of these issues to light, positing their implications for Mr. Trump’s immunity with respect to the civil suits arising out of the January 6th attack on Congress and ultimately providing an inventory of questions that the Court must weigh in on to produce a workable standard for assessing when speech is deemed to incite imminent lawless action.