Jan. 6 defendants bring cases to Supreme Court:- Three individuals involved in the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol have approached the Supreme Court, seeking to dismiss a portion of their indictment and avoid an additional 20 years in prison.
These cases mark the first instances related to the 2021 insurrection reaching the highest court in the nation.
If the justices agree to hear the appeals, their decisions could ultimately impact a federal indictment against former President Donald Trump. This indictment relates to his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
Furthermore, these decisions may also have consequences for numerous individuals charged in the deadly riot that occurred across the street from the Supreme Court more than two years ago.
According to Edward Lang, Joseph Fischer, and Garret Miller, the prosecutors have exceeded their authority by charging them with a federal prohibition that involves obstructing “official proceedings.” This law was enacted in 2002 as a response to the Enron financial meltdown.
It is worth noting that Lang openly documented his participation in the Jan. 6 attack through social media platforms, while Miller gained notoriety after the riot for issuing threats against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
More than 200 individuals have faced charges for violating the same obstruction law in relation to the events of January 6th, as stated by the Justice Department. Among them is none other than the former president himself: Trump stands accused, following an investigation by special counsel Jack Smith, as indicated in last month’s grand jury indictment.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the defendants, it would weaken the prosecution’s case not only in other similar instances but also potentially impact cases involving Trump.
‘Crushing dissent’ or prosecuting a mob?
Last year, the justices opted not to block a House committee’s investigation into the attack and their acquisition of Trump administration documents. In the ensuing months, when faced with an emergency appeal from Kelli Ward, former chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party, who contested a subpoena for phone records by said committee, the court similarly refused.
The Justice Department asserts that the interruption of the counting of electoral votes, caused by lawmakers seeking safety and police clashes with rioters, meets the criteria of an “official proceeding.” Prosecutors argue that this law would encompass falsehoods told to a grand jury or the act of burning down a building to hide murder victims.
The department informed a federal appeals court last year that it also involves breaching the Capitol to disrupt an ongoing congressional proceeding.
The defendants argue that the provision aimed to prevent individuals, particularly those associated with the Enron scandal, from tampering with evidence. In a court document, Fischer referred to the cases’ underlying offense as an “anti-shredding” law. The attorneys insist that their actions on Jan. 6 bear no relation to this matter.
Furthermore, they contend that allowing prosecutors to pursue the obstruction charge might give rise to a dangerous precedent of prosecuting lesser acts of disruption.
Attorneys representing Lang expressed to the Supreme Court in his appeal that the fate of the First Amendment is at stake. They argued that a law initially crafted to address financial fraud has been maliciously transformed into a tool wielded against political dissent. This, they claimed, constitutes a threat to our fundamental freedoms.
In their plea to the Supreme Court, Lang, Miller, and Fischer are not requesting the dismissal of the other charges they are currently facing.
Most courts have backed prosecutors. Will Supreme Court agree?
In a ruling that sparked controversy, Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump nominee, stood alone among his peers.
A U.S. District Court judge agreed with the defendants’ argument that the Enron-era provision required them to have taken specific action regarding the evidence in order to face charges.
Contrastingly, fourteen other district court judges in Washington, D.C., sided with the Justice Department’s interpretation of the law.
In April, a divided appeals court in Washington reversed the previous ruling, setting the stage for an appeal to the Supreme Court. The majority decision of 2-1 included one judge appointed by President Joe Biden and another by Trump.
Several experts have predicted that the high court is unlikely to take up the cases at this moment. This reluctance stems from two factors. Firstly, appeals courts tend to defer to grand juries when it comes to criminal charges. Secondly, there has been minimal disagreement among appeals courts in interpreting the law so far.
“What they are doing is what any defense lawyer in their position would be doing,” explained Craig Trocino, a law professor at the University of Miami. However, it does not guarantee their victory or legal correctness.”
Lang and Miller present an argument regarding the interpretation of lawmakers when they combined a provision that forbids destroying a document “with the intent to impair” an official proceeding with another provision that prohibits obstructing or impeding “any official proceeding.”
“When examining a statute like this, one should consider its ordinary meanings,” expressed Trocino. “I do not believe that it is excessively vague to the point of violating due process in these circumstances.”
The Supreme Court will consider whether to grant the cases later this year.