A federal judge appointed by Donald Trump has, for now, just effectively destroyed the main case against a January 6 defendant by ignoring the rulings of seven other judges – a move that “clouds the legal path of as many as 270 cases,” according to The Washington Post.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols “said late Monday that the Justice Department cannot charge Jan. 6 defendants with obstructing Congress’s certification of President Biden’s 2020 election victory unless the defendants tampered with official documents or records in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.”
By doing so Judge Nichols “broke with at least seven other U.S. trial judges in Washington who have ruled that prosecutors can use the obstruction charge in Capitol riot cases.”
Judge Nichols clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He has ruled against Trump allies in defamation cases brought by Dominion Voting Systems, but also temporarily blocked the State of New York from handing Trump’s tax returns to a top House committee.
Nichols’ ruling Monday is in the case of Garret Miller, of Texas, but defense attorneys in hundreds of other cases could point to it to slow down prosecutions of their clients or even force the DOJ to retry cases. DOJ can appeal Nichols’ ruling.
“This ruling, which seems contrary to the plain language of the statute & conflicts with other judges’ rulings,” warns noted former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, “has serious implications if applied to yesterday’s indictment of the Proud Boy’s [Enrique] Tarrio. He’s charged with conspiracy under the same provision.”
Another noted U.S. Attorney, Barb McQuade, adds: “DOJ will likely appeal judge’s dismissal of obstruction charge, a decision that’s contrary to the plain language of the statute and prior decisions by 7 other judges, but the decision will delay DOJ’s work to hold Jan 6 defendants accountable.”
In a deeper dive, national security and civil liberties journalist Marcy Wheeler calls parts of Nichol’s ruling in the Miller case “far too clever,” noting he is “ignoring some language addressing issues he raises in his opinion."
Reprinted with permission from Alternet