First test in Georgia v. Trump: Can plaintiffs retain district court advantage?
Fulton County District Attorney Fanny Willis’ first major confrontation Her case is against Donald Trump and 18 of his allies It will take place on unfamiliar territory: a federal courtroom.
Officially, the hearing Monday in Atlanta will focus on co-defendant Mark Meadows’ attempt to move the case out of Georgia state court.
But the hearing will also serve as a courtroom first post-indictment for the Willis prosecution team and an opportunity for attorneys in both camps to air their strongest initial arguments on the case, which were It was revealed just two weeks ago It alleges a sweeping conspiracy to sabotage the 2020 presidential election in Georgia and other states.
In short, the hearing before US District Judge Steve Jones may be more like a mini-trial that holds important lessons for the larger battle ahead. Some witnesses have even received subpoenas to testify at the hearing, including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who resisted Trump’s pressure to “find” additional votes in January 2021 and could be a star witness for the prosecution in the final trial.
Legal experts said moving the case to federal court would likely not be disastrous for Willis’ case, but it would, at the very least, eliminate the veteran Fulton County prosecutor’s substantial district court advantage.
“Fannie Willis spends her career on the Fulton County Superior Court. She knows the court. She knows the judges. She is comfortable geographically. She knows the jury.” Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-founder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said: “She knows everything about it.” “She is ready to do it [in federal court]but this is not her home court.
For now, Trump himself has not requested a transfer — formally known as a “removal” — to federal court. But five of the 19 accused are: Meadows, who served as Trump’s last White House chief of staff; Jeffrey Clark, who served in the Trump Department of Justice; and three defendants who falsely claimed to be eligible voters for the Electoral College of Georgia.
Trump still has plenty of time to request a transfer. Under federal law, that deadline will come no more than a month early.
In the meantime, he can sit back and see what happens on Monday, quantify Jones — appointed by former President Barack Obama — and assess how open the judge is to arguments that the case properly belongs in the federal court because some of the defendants held positions in the federal government. At the time of the 2020 elections.
If transferred to federal court, the charges — all subject to Georgia law — would remain unchanged, and Willis’ team could continue to deal with the allegation. But federal procedural rules, not state court rules, will apply. Some defendants may expect other, more significant advantages in the Federal Forum.
A jury for the federal court trial will likely be drawn from 10 counties that include Atlanta and its sprawling suburbs, while a state court trial will likely include only jurors from Fulton County, which handed over win by 73% to 26% For Joe Biden over Trump in 2020. The broader group of counties is home to a somewhat higher proportion of Trump supporters, though the political make-up is not significantly different.
“It’s a slightly different jury,” said Eisen. “I don’t think it’s going to be decisive in the outcome. Only one of the counties went in favor of Trump. It’s almost all of Biden’s counties in this section.
A federal judge may also have more leeway to hear challenges to the constitutionality of a state’s racketeering law or other laws listed in the indictment than state judges, who are obligated to follow state precedent.
Meadows hopes the transfer to federal court is a precursor to a ruling that he is completely immune from Georgia charges because they relate to actions he took as a federal official.
Other defendants — including Trump himself — are expected to make the same immunity argument.
The argument is rooted in Sovereignty Clause of the United States Constitution, which declares federal law to be “the supreme law of the land,” and takes precedence over state laws that may conflict with it. Its purpose is to prevent states from criminalizing actions taken by federal officials to do their jobs. But legal scholars say the Constitution does not provide immunity from state charges based on conduct that falls clearly outside the scope of a federal official’s duties.
A series of cases in which federal officials — particularly law enforcement officers — have faced charges at the state level have led to court rulings that often result in immunity for those officials. Federal courts, more than state courts, tend to show respect for such claims.
“The alleged conduct in the indictment was clearly stated because Mr. Meadows was serving as Chief of Staff to then-President Donald J. Trump, and the Chief of Staff had wide-ranging duties to advise and assist the President. “This is not a case in which the defendant was clearly behaving with a gaiety of his own unrelated to his official duties,” Meadows’ attorneys wrote in the filing. Court file Friday, citing previous legal precedent.
Meadows’ submission even plays into a controversial argument advanced by some conservatives known as the unitary executive theory. Lawyers for the former chief of staff argue that since elections held at the state and local levels are overseen by parts of the federal government such as the Department of Justice, they are the purview of the president and, by extension, the chief counsel to the president — in this case, Almarai.
Willis’ team argues the opposite: that efforts by Trump and his allies to revise Georgia’s vote count and field unaccredited voters by the state were purely political in nature and had nothing to do with the official duties of anyone involved in Trump’s mission. side.
Prosecutors argue that a federal law known as the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity as part of their official employment, so Meadows could not have been the White House chief of staff when he pressured officials in Georgia to change the vote. tally.
“Because the law prohibits a defendant from using his power or influence to interfere with or influence the outcome of an election or otherwise engage in activity directed toward the success of Mr. Trump as a presidential candidate, every one of those activities is ineligible,” McDonald Wakeford, senior assistant district attorney, writes. Brief Submitted to Jones Wed.
Monday’s hearing formally relates to Meadows’ request to move the case to federal court, but questions of immunity under a superiority clause are tied to that request, so the hearing may be the first time that attorneys from both sides have been questioned in court about a potential main legal defense.
Repercussions of removal
It remains unclear exactly what any judge’s ruling on Meadows’ transfer request will mean for Trump or the co-defendants. Usually, cases are moved from state court to federal court in their entirety, but some defendants may seek to have their cases reinstated.
“It’s a very loose legal issue,” Eisen said. “Maybe what’s going on is that the whole thing is heating up [to federal court], as in a civil case. But courts have said the presumption of a state’s right to uphold its criminal matters is stronger. … So, you know, while it’s possible, it’s not guaranteed.
The transfer of civil claims from state court to federal courts is routine, but the transfer of criminal cases from the state system to the federal system is very rare.
One of the most notable transfers of criminal prosecution from state court to federal court occurred in 1997, when FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi was indicted in connection with the Ruby Ridge encounter in Idaho five years earlier. The local prosecutor charged Horiuchi with manslaughter for shooting and killing Vicki Weaver, the wife of anti-government militant Randy Weaver, during the siege.
Federal prosecutors took the case to federal court, where the judge later dismissed it, ruling that Horiuchi had immunity because he was acting within the scope of his duties. A federal appeals court overturned that ruling and reinstated the case, but it was eventually dropped after a change of leadership in the local district attorney’s office.
Recently, two US Park Police officers were tried in a Virginia state court and transferred to federal court after being charged with manslaughter for killing an unarmed motorist, Bijan Gesar, during a traffic stop in 2017 following a chase on the George Washington Memorial. Parkway in Fairfax County, Virginia. He later became a federal judge Charges dropped against the husband.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, is appealing that ruling. But after Republican Jason Miyaris won the attorney general position in 2021, he dropped the appeal. Despite loud protests over the officers’ actions, the Ministry of Justice announced last year Refuse to reopen it She investigated the shooting and stood by previous decision Not filing federal charges.
Trump Transfer Offers
Trump himself has already supported two recent attempts to move cases against him from state court to federal court.
Less than two months before the 2020 election, the Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit by writer E. Jean Carroll against Trump over his denial of her claim that he raped her in a New York City department store dressing room in the 1990s.
The transfer proceeded to federal court, but the judge rejected Justice Department claims that Trump enjoyed immunity for statements he made about Carroll while he was president.
A federal jury in Manhattan I found Trump responsible In a parallel lawsuit in May, it found he had committed sexual assault and defamation and ordered him to pay $5 million in damages to Carroll. Trump appeals.
Carroll’s other lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in January. The Justice Department recently changed its position in the case, saying that Trump is not entitled to immunity and that his comments about Carroll appear outside the scope of his official role as president.
Earlier this year, Trump also sought to move his criminal trial over a secret payment to porn star Stormy Daniels from a New York state court to a federal court there. A federal judge denied Trump’s request for transfer, but the former president appealed.
Battles on forums have a long and, at times, strange history.
Meadows’ brief support for moving his trial to federal court cites three Supreme Court cases from more than a century ago.
In 1890, the Supreme Court found that a deputy U.S. marshal—accused in California of killing a man who was assaulting a Supreme Court justice—was acting properly in his federal capacity when he fired the fatal shot.
In 1899, judges denied an Ohio request to prosecute a federal official for a crime under state law, described by the court as “serving margarine in a home for disabled veterans without putting up a sign in the window.”
In 1906, the Supreme Court denied immunity in a case involving conflicting evidence about a group of soldiers shooting and killing a robber after a speedy pursuit.
But some critics of Trump’s allies’ attempt to move the Georgia trial to federal court say it runs counter to Republican officials’ repeated calls for the federal government to transfer power to the states.
“It’s ridiculous,” Aizen said. “Conservatives have been known to promote the role of states in our federal system, and here you have two governors running to the federal court to avoid the workings of the state judicial system.”