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Free Minds & Free Markets

A Little-Noticed Legal Ruling That Is Bad News for Trump

Can the president of the United States be sued for damages in a civil proceeding?

Can the president of the United States be sued for damages in a civil proceeding?

The answer depends on the nature of the president's alleged misconduct. In Nixon v. Fitzgerald (1982), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the president has immunity from civil suits that arise from the performance of his official duties. "In exercising the functions of his office," the Court said, "the head of an Executive Department, keeping within the limits of his authority, should not be under an apprehension that the motives that control his official conduct may, at any time, become the subject of inquiry in a civil suit for damages."

The president's behavior off the job, however, is a different matter. In Clinton v. Jones (1997), the Supreme Court allowed former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones' sexual harassment and defamation suit against President Bill Clinton to proceed in federal court because the "rationale for affording certain public servants immunity from suits for money damages arising out of their official acts is inapplicable to unofficial conduct."

Which brings us to Donald Trump. In March, a judge allowed a defamation suit filed by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos to proceed against the show's former host. "It is settled," wrote New York Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter, that even the president "has no immunity and is 'subject to the laws' for purely private acts."

The case originated in 2016, when Zervos claimed Trump had kissed and groped her in 2007 without her consent. Then-candidate Trump denied those allegations, repeatedly describing Zervos as a liar and fabricator. She filed suit in response in January 2017, saying he made those statements about her "knowing they were false and/or with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity." She seeks $2,914 in damages, which is the amount of money she says her restaurant business lost as a result of Trump's alleged defamations.

Justice Schecter's opinion did not address the merits of Zervos' complaint; it merely allowed the suit to move forward. But that is still a critical loss for Trump, who faces the possibility of real trouble as this litigation unfolds.

Remember that the effort to impeach Clinton did not truly begin to build steam until after Clinton lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. That act of perjury occurred during Clinton's deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit. Trump's opponents are hoping the president will make a comparable misstep in this case.

Photo Credit: Joanna Andreasson. Urban icon.

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  • Azathoth!!||

    Remember that the effort to impeach Clinton did not truly begin to build steam until after Clinton lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky

    No one can 'remember' this. It didn't happen.

    The effort to impeach Clinton began after Clinton lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky

    As they say, FTFY.

    Likewise the precedent was set by that case. A president can face charges for things they did when they were not 'presidenting'. This was a loss for Clinton. For Trump, it's just how things are.

    And it should be made clear--she's not suing Trump for alleged groping/kissing or harassment. She's suing Trump for calling her a liar.

    The entire purpose of this 'case' is going to be getting a parade of women making all kinds of allegations that are never intended to actually see the inside of a courtroom and be subject to scrutiny.

    It should--if it can't be derailed, ramp up during the campaign for '20--though having it creep out now suggests that Dems internal polling numbers are REALLY bad.

  • Z565||

    "Never intended to see inside courtroom"

    You just couldn't be more wrong. The intention is to get this fat lying piece of shit under oath.

  • damikesc||

    *snicker* It's adorable you believe that.

    Question: How many of the "numerous women" who, say, accused Herman Cain in 2012 of sexual crimes ever went to court about any of it after he dropped out of the GOP race?

    What happened to Stormy Daniels?

  • Z565||

    Stormy Daniels is doing her best to move her cases forward.

    You couldn't have advertised your stupidity better if you think the women are the ones afraid of answering questions under oath.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Where is Stormy and her lawsuit that has been counter-claimed after she violated the terms of the NDA?

  • Snorkle||

    Daniels' lawsuit is currently suspended pending some decisions in the NY criminal case against Cohen. The NDA has nothing to do with that, it is that the criminal case is considered more grave than the civil suit. I apparently can't post long links here, but Bloomberg has an article on it from two days ago that is easy to google.

    And in the meantime, her lawyer is all over your teevee talking smack that Lord Smallgloves is too much of a coward to push back on.

    Does that help bring you up to speed?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yea, they should get that fat lying piece of shit Stormy under oath alright.

  • Dan S.||

    $2,914? How did she come up with that exact number? Anyway, couldn't Trump just pay it and end the case? Fighting it would cost him more. I'm sure he can work out some kind of statement that is not an admission to the underlying claim of groping the woman. Say that she may honestly believe the claims she is making, so he shouldn't have called her a deliberate liar, but that is certainly not how he remembers it. Something like that. And that it is not open season on suing the President, but he just can't let this case distract him from his work.

  • Michael Hihn||

    ROFLMAO!

    And it should be made clear--she's not suing Trump for alleged groping/kissing or harassment. She's suing Trump for calling her a liar.

    Pay attention. I'll go slowly.
    1) His "lie" was to deny he had sexually assaulted her.
    2) If it's found to be a lie ... what does that mean?
    3) It means he sexually assaulted her.
    4) Thus, her lawsuit claims he sexually assaulted her!!!!!

    Still confused?

  • Michael Hihn||

    ROFLMAO!

    And it should be made clear--she's not suing Trump for alleged groping/kissing or harassment. She's suing Trump for calling her a liar.

    Pay attention. I'll go slowly.
    1) His "lie" was to deny he had sexually assaulted her.
    2) If it's found to be a lie ... what does that mean?
    3) It means he sexually assaulted her.
    4) Thus, her lawsuit claims he sexually assaulted her!!!!!

    Still confused?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Looks like the ACLU won't be strongly protecting the 1st Amendment like it abandoned the 2nd Amendment long ago.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    She seeks $2,914 in damages, which is the amount of money she says her restaurant business lost as a result of Trump's alleged defamations. [...] Trump's opponents are hoping the president will make a comparable misstep in this case.

    When Trump loses and the case is allowed to proceed, Trump will just default on the case. $2,914 is nothing and it would stupid to fall into some kind of perjury trap over that the lefties are setting.

    BTW Damon, Bill Clinton did not fall into a perjury trap. He lied under oath and that is one of the reasons why he was impeached.

  • Z565||

    He'll be found in contempt of court for failing to appear and a bench warrant will issue for his arrest.

  • damikesc||

    Yeah, that will happen. Keep holding on to that dream.

  • Z565||

    It's not a dream just a possible outcome if Trump treats these proceedings with contempt.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    There is no contempt in civil cases for not showing up to defend your lawsuit, dumb dumb.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its a civil case. You can not show up and the Plaintiff gets a default against you. It happens all the time. The judge then listens to damage claims and grants a default judgment for "x" damages. She is asking for $2,914 and the judge will give he a little bit over that to cover costs of the lawsuit.

    You lefties and your fever dreams.

    Someday you might want to learn how to play chess.

  • Michael Hihn||

    Stil; slurping Trump's cock? You righties and your fevered delusions.

    Left - Right = Zero

    Or Bill Clinton, a lawyer himself, was too fucking stupid to ignore the Paula Jones subpoena, which would have also avoided his impeachment! (snort)

    Severe denial is a mental disorder.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Bill Clinton did not fall into a perjury trap. He lied under oath

    Is not one of these the same as the other?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Bill Clinton said under oath that he did not have sex with that person and then later admitted under oath that he did have sex with that person. That is lying under oath.

    A perjury trap is you saying something but you never contradict yourself and the government accusing you of lying. See the difference?

  • Michael Hihn||

    Yeah ... but you also claim, elsewhere on this very page, that Clintton could have ignored the subpoena, with impunity.

    A perjury trap is you saying something but you never contradict yourself and the government accusing you of lying. See the difference?

    ... government PROVING you lied.
    See the difference?

    It's not perjury unless it's PROVEN in a court of law.
    Anything else?

  • damikesc||

    He was also advised, repeatedly, to NOT

  • damikesc||

    To NOT do that. I remember multiple "talking head" shows saying it'd be idiotic for him to lie about it under oath.

    He did so anyway.

  • Mark22||

    Justice Schecter's opinion did not address the merits of Zervos' complaint; it merely allowed the suit to move forward. But that is still a critical loss for Trump, who faces the possibility of real trouble as this litigation unfolds.

    What kind of "trouble"? Voters evidently don't care about pussy grabbers or sexual harassers in the White House, we have had half a dozen of those in the 20th century. And a few million dollars in damages is pocket change.

    So, again, what kind of trouble?

  • Z565||

    Defaming women that you sexually assaulted is about as low it gets.

  • damikesc||

    Never impacted Bill Clinton. And he raped a woman.

  • Z565||

    Trump raped a 14 year old.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Bill Clinton raped a 10 year old while Hillary Clinton watched.

  • Snorkle||

    This is the sort of thread that leads me to root for injuries.

  • SRoach||

    Both of you,
    cite., or it didn't happen.

  • BYODB||

    Ah, yes, the classic 'nu-uh' defense.

    Clinton was impeached but not convicted over his alleged crimes and definite perjury, so it would be logical to expect the same with Trump.

    Lying under oath as President of the United States is on record as something the electorate does not care about, at the very least in the narrow interest of who the President has fucked.

    Like it, or hate it, this has literally happened before with no repercussions beyond Clinton losing his license to practice law. Trump, notably, doesn't have one of those to start with.

  • Michael Hihn||

    Trump's lies are far more egregious ... and lies aren't the core of charges that can be proven against him.

  • mondo_cane||

    The US is the most litigious nation in the world. People sue for any misunderstanding regardless of the merits of the situation. The homosexuals who sued the baker in Colorado (front page news everywhere) is beyond reasonableness. Now is almost a default position for any grievance no matter how small or inconsequential.

    Charges of sexual harassment have become a trend. (Never defending Trump, he can take care of himself.) But it seems strange that most sexual harassment lawsuits arise decades after the alleged incident. If the incident is important now, it was or should have been, important then. It's as if some other force is boosting the number of these allegations since the suit against Harvey Weinstein was successful. "Me too" as a movement definitely seems suspicious. It's the cheering section of the population that pushes for the punishment of any slight or vague insult.

    It may seem ridiculous to wonder about sexual harassment of men by women, but it happens quite often and no one complains. I'm definitely for women enjoying equality in the workplace and everywhere else, but it will never happen so long as sexual harassment lawsuits continue. The inequality problem continues by default.

  • Snorkle||

    What has changed is that attitudes towards sexual harassment (to be clear, men taking unwelcome liberties with women) are less tolerant of the behavior. It looks like there's some threshold that had to be crossed (I'd be curious to find out if geneticists, or maybe epidemiologists, have analogous situations to provide insight into the population dynamics of the question).

    And it seems that the #Metoo thing may just be the leading edge; currently, it seems mainly powerful women who are successfully winning these confrontations. As attitudes shift, expect women with more to lose to start feeling that the risk might be worth it.

    > but it will never happen so long as sexual harassment lawsuits continue

    I love all the weird forms "stop hitting yourself" takes. No, what will curb inequality is that attitudes shift over time as old people die and new ones who behave slightly differently grow up. Same way everything else changes - one grave at a time.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    With a "weaponized" IRS, would anyone actually be that stupid?

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