Capitol stormers didn’t commit ‘obstruction,’ Supreme Court says, so Trump may not either

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Justice Department overinterpreted a law criminalizing “obstruction.” But critics say it takes a lot of twists and turns to reach that conclusion.

Protesters who stormed the Capitol wanted to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory in November 2020. One of those who delayed the vote in Congress was Joseph Fischer, a police officer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who has since Has been fired. He was charged with seven offences, including assaulting a police officer. And for obstruction, a crime that could theoretically carry a sentence of 20 years in prison.

But the article of law that defines this crime is not applicable, affirms the Supreme Court, after hearing Fischer’s appeal.

That article became law in 2002 after the Enron scandal. When that large energy company went bankrupt after fraud, many documents that could have served as evidence were destroyed. This turned out not to be punishable in that situation, so Congress passed an article of law prohibiting it. Literally, it says that it constitutes a criminal offense to “alter, destroy, mutilate or hide data, documents or other objects.” And then come the words that matter: “or otherwise influence or prevent an official event, or attempt to do so.”

According to the ministry, it was clear: Fischer’s behavior in the Capitol was a clear example of that “other way.”

But the Supreme Court says – at least by majority – that it cannot be interpreted so generally. Because then it will no longer be necessary to talk about documents, it is reasoned. Apparently, when Congress enacted that law, it did not intend to create a very general ban on nuisance in one clause, with a severe penalty.

change of position

The verdict means a change of charges or convictions for hundreds of suspects. In total, more than 1,400 people have been charged in connection with the Capitol assault.

The big question is what consequences it has for whoever sees special counsel Jack Smith as the instigator and instigator of the violence: Donald Trump. That’s still not entirely clear. The two obstruction charges against him may be dropped. That leaves two: conspiracy to change the outcome of the election and conspiracy to violate voters’ civil rights.

But it’s also possible that a judge could approve obstruction charges in Trump’s case, said Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University. The Wall Street Journal“Special counsel Jack Smith can say that Trump’s actions absolutely involved a violation of the integrity of the records, based in part on the failed scheme to submit false lists of Electoral College members.”

Those lists were intended to give Congress a reason on January 6 to delay confirming the election results.

Delay

The lawsuit against Trump over the 2020 election and the assault on the Capitol has been postponed until the Supreme Court rules on another issue: Trump’s claim that all of his actions were part of his job as president and therefore not I was responsible for it. he may be prosecuted. A decision on the matter is expected on Monday.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the ruling, compared the obstruction law to a zoo sign prohibiting disturbing the animals by petting, feeding, throwing or otherwise bothering them. “If a visitor eats lunch within sight of a hungry gorilla or chats with a friend near the enclosure, has he complied with the prohibition? Probably. Although the smell of human food or the sound of voices might disturb the gorillas.”

In other words: the “other way” should look like the examples above.

A minority of the nine justices think otherwise. One of the conservative justices, Amy Coney Barrett, writes in an opposing article that the court should simply read what it says, something it normally attaches great importance to. “It is true that the law was not intended for events like January 6, but who can blame Congress for not having that much imagination?”

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