SCOTUS Jan 6. Ruling Could Impact Hundreds, Even Trump

Jul 4, 2024

The Supreme Court essentially just threw out hundreds of convictions against those who participated in the January 6, 2021 riots at the U.S. Capitol,
according to an opinion piece from Intelligencer.

“The Supreme Court just effectively threw out hundreds of convictions of January 6 rioters. And when it comes to one particular defendant of great public concern – a certain Donald John Trump – the Court’s decision leaves DOJ Special Counsel Jack Smith in a tricky position, with a critical decision point now at hand,” writes Elie Honig.

Honig goes on to describe how SCOTUS’s decision is focused on the case of Joseph Fischer. Fischer was said to have “exhorted his fellow rioters to “charge,” and briefly clashed physically with police at the scene.” He was additionally charged with “obstruction of an official proceeding” and other offenses. The case centered on the DOJ’s theory that Congress’ meeting to count the electoral votes was an “official proceeding.” By entering the Capitol, Fischer and others sought to “otherwise obstruct, influence, or delay” that proceeding.

What Does SCOTUS Say?

Honig described the Supreme Court’s decision as a “definitive answer” that the obstruction law does not apply to physical efforts to interfere with Congress on January 6. The charge against Fischer is “out the window,” Honig added.

“Reasonable minds can debate whether the Supreme Court got it right here. I’m firmly in the dissenting camp, along with real-life Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Barrett. I agree with the losing side that the Court’s majority gives the obstruction statute an unjustifiably narrow reading to prevent its application to the January 6 Capitol attack.”

“But that’s an academic argument at this point. It’s like debating the weather. Like it or not, it just is,” Honig added.

What Happens Now?

Honig believes the “ripple effect” from this decision “will be substantial and immediate.” Some 300 people have been charged with the obstruction statute. Many of these cases involve other charges, so those defendants are only potentially looking at reduced sentences.

But roughly 50 defendants have been convicted through only the obstruction crime. “Those convictions will likely be reversed altogether, given the Court’s ruling,” Honig wrote.

“Smith now faces a unique conundrum. The Special Counsel indicted Trump on four counts: two under the same obstruction law at issue in the Fischer case (one for actual obstruction and the other for conspiracy to obstruct), plus two other counts (one for conspiracy to defraud the United States and another for conspiracy against the rights of voters),” Honig continued.

“Given today’s ruling, Smith has two options. Both have their drawbacks, but neither is necessarily fatal to his case against Trump,” Honig added. If Smith drops the obstruction charges, he may be limited in his ability to introduce evidence, Honig argues. If he tries the obstruction charge, he can proceed as planned, “but the risk here is massive,” according to Honig.

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