A chef wasn’t happy, and Donald Trump decided to sue.
Trump left the campaign trail in June to testify under oath after he sued two chefs who had pulled out of opening restaurants inside the new Trump Hotel in Washington. They were upset with Trump after he referred to Mexicans as “drug dealers, criminals and rapists.”
And if Trump assumes the presidency, he could be pulled from the White House to address his plethora of lawsuits, both as a defendant and plaintiff.
“Donald Trump attracts litigation like flies to manure,” said University of Chicago professor Joseph Isenbergh, an expert on the impeachment process. “If Donald Trump were to be president, there’s little doubt in my mind that he would be subject to a barrage of lawsuits.”
Donald Trump attracts litigation like flies to manure. University of Chicago professor Joseph Isenbergh
Presidents have immunity for actions they take as chief executive, as decided in the 1982 Supreme Court case Nixon v. Fitzgerald, so Trump could not be sued for actions such as building a wall at the Mexican border.
“If the grievance is with something official the president has done, no civil lawsuit is possible,” said National Constitution Center scholar-in-residence Michael Gerhardt.
But a court decision in response to Bill Clinton’s sex scandals opened the door for a president to be sued for private actions that occurred before assuming the presidency.
Former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones sued Clinton alleging sexual harassment over a 1991 incident in a Little Rock hotel. The Supreme Court ruled the suit could proceed while Clinton was in office, setting a precedent that sitting presidents can be sued if the act occurred before taking office – or is unrelated to the presidency, like a divorce.
Isenbergh argues the Supreme Court’s decision that allowed Jones to sue Clinton could have disastrous implications during a Trump presidency.
“The Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones succumbed to obvious political correctness,” Isenbergh said. “Here is a woman suing a man for sexual harassment. That explains why progressives or liberals went that way, and conservatives just jumped on it.”
Isenbergh said conservatives such as Justice Antonin Scalia ignored the constitutional questions of Clinton v. Jones because the case hurt Clinton politically.
Trump should be immune from lawsuits as president, Isenbergh argues, because Trump’s web of business dealings could make it impossible for him to run the country if he’s stuck in court – and his litany of vocal opponents could use legal action to make it harder for him to govern the country.
Isenbergh’s proposed judicial immunity doesn’t mean Trump would get a free pass for his outstanding lawsuits, however. Instead, the civil suits could be held until Trump was no longer president. Or the House of Representatives could initiate impeachment proceedings if Trump committed a grave offense in office.
“The president is not above the law, because of impeachment and because of the possibility the court can hold the suit in abeyance until the president leaves office,” Isenbergh said.
In theory, a judge could declare Trump in contempt if he failed to show up for a court appearance and throw him in jail, which is a problem because presidents still hold executive power unless they are impeached or incapacitated.
“Even from a jail cell the president . . . can still whip out the nuclear codes and decide to bomb the U.K.,” Isenbergh said. “The Supreme Court simply got this principle 180 degrees wrong.”
Another wrinkle that would make a Trump presidency a legal question mark is his public desire to reopen Trump University if elected. The for-profit college is the subject of two class-action lawsuits, and Isenbergh said judicial immunity could be waived if Trump openly invited legal action while in the White House.
“If Donald Trump sues someone while in office, that probably waives presidential immunity,” Isenbergh said. “That’s absurdly farfetched for most humans, but not for Donald Trump.”