Thursday, January 11, 2018
Recall the lawsuit by Summer Zervos against Donald Trump for defamation. It's filed in New York state court and Trump has argued that Clinton v. Jones, the 1997 case in which the United States Supreme Court held that President Clinton was not immune from being sued, should not apply to state court proceedings.
In an amicus brief filed in Zervos v. Trump, and available on ssrn, three law professors who submitted an amicus brief in Clinton v. Jones in support of a plaintiffs' right to sue the sitting President in federal court,now argue that the rule should apply to state court as well. The professors - - - Stephen Burbank, Richard Parker, and Lucas Powe, Jr. - - - argue that a President should be amenable to suit in state as well as federal court, with appropriate docket-management accommodations made in light of the demands on a President's time and attention.
At issue is footnote 13 of Clinton v. Jones which might be read to distinguish state court proceedings from the federal one involved in Clinton:
Because the Supremacy Clause makes federal law “the supreme Law of the Land,” Art. VI, cl. 2, any direct control by a state court over the President, who has principal responsibility to ensure that those laws are “faithfully executed,” Art. II, §3, may implicate concerns that are quite different from the interbranch separation of powers questions addressed here. Cf ., e.g. , Hancock v. Train , 426 U.S. 167, 178 -179 (1976); Mayo v. United States , 319 U.S. 441, 445 (1943). See L. Tribe, American Constitutional Law 513 (2d ed. 1988) (“[A]bsent explicit congressional consent no state may command federal officials . . . to take action in derogation of their . . . federal responsibilities”).
The amicus brief contends that the footnote is best read as limited to the problem of direct control of presidential activities by a state court. That, they argue, is not the Zervos suit, since Zervos' lawsuit has nothing to do with the president's duties. They conclude that the best reading of the Constitution, the requirements of federalism and the rule of law, and the Supreme Court's decision in Clinton v. Jones direct that state courts be permitted to entertain suits against sitting Presidents for conduct arising from their pre-Presidential conduct, just as federal courts can.
Judge Jennifer Schecter has yet to issue a ruling.