Government attorneys said neither Trump nor law enforcement should be held responsible for keeping an incumbent president safe.
The US Department of Justice has asked a federal judge to dismiss lawsuits against former President Donald Trump, former Attorney General Bill Barr and other officials for ordering the forcible dispersal of protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington DC.
According to The Washington Post, Justice Department attorneys argued that Trump – along with other senior government officials – was immune to civil lawsuits over police actions designed to protect an incumbent president and secure his movements.
The federal government also suggested dismissing the lawsuits because the results of last November’s presidential election – which were won by Joe Biden – made it unlikely that Trump, as commander in chief, would ever get another chance to break the law.
The Post notes that the Trump administration has been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington DC, Black Lives Matter, and other civil liberties guard dogs. Together they accused former President Trump and his administration of forcibly dispersing a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters on June 1.
Trump holds a Bible in Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. Image via Flickr / Trump White House Archived. Public domain.
Allegedly on Trump’s orders, a number of military, federal and local law enforcement agencies cleared Lafayette Square with batons, horses, pepper spray and smoke.
Police reportedly began evacuating Lafayette Square over half an hour before the borough’s citywide curfew began.
The action met with significant criticism from the left, with critics of Trump claiming he ordered an attack on protesters just so he could appear in Lafayette Square with a Bible.
In its complaint, the ACLU stated that the Justice Department’s defense would allow future governments to “authorize brutality with impunity”, even on the symbolic steps of the Capitol, despite legal precedents in favor of the former president and his allies.
In addition, the ACLU suggested that defending the government would mean law enforcement “could have used live ammunition to clear the park and no one would have any claim against it in violation of their constitutional rights”.
Justice Department lawyers nonetheless defended the legality of the event, saying the president’s safety was an “overarching” government concern.
As such, government lawyers wrote that the police acted lawfully when they took steps to keep Trump’s safety as he moved one block from the White House towards Lafayette Square.
The Washington Post reports that US District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich appeared to be receptive to the Justice Department’s line of argument, as well as his motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
“How do I get over the clear national security concerns about the President’s security?” Judge Friedrich asked the ACLU and its allies in a recent hearing. “It seems to me you have to vacate the space beforehand [Trump] goes to church. Why doesn’t that make sense? “
DOJ argues that Lafayette Square protesters’ lawsuit should be dropped as Trump is out of office
The Justice Department is asking the judge to file a lawsuit against Trump and Barr for evicting Lafayette Square