Supreme Court Reviews Broad Use Of Obstruction Law In Capitol Riot Cases

 April 17, 2024

The Biden administration's broad use of federal obstruction laws against Jan. 6 defendants, including former President Donald Trump, faces skepticism from the U.S. Supreme Court justices.

According to Western Journal, the justices recently entertained oral arguments concerning 18 U.S. Code 1512(c)(2), highlighting its original intent against corporate fraud under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and its controversial application in politically sensitive contexts.

Original Intents And Today’s Interpretations

Justice Neil Gorsuch exemplified the court's unease, suggesting that broad interpretations could unjustly transform minor disruptions into major felonies. He raised speculative scenarios highlighting potential overreach: sit-ins, heckling, or even pulling a fire alarm could be construed as felonious obstruction.

Would a sit-in that disrupts a trial or access to a federal courthouse qualify? Would a heckler in today’s audience qualify or at the State of the Union Address? Would pulling a fire alarm before a vote qualify for 20 years in federal prison?

This statute has already been applied in over 300 cases linked to the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, marking it as a key tool in the Justice Department's efforts to prosecute those involved.

Challenging the Application of Sarbanes-Oxley

Joseph Fischer's case has become a focal point in this legal narrative. Charged under the same law, his situation parallels potential legal challenges that Mr. Trump might face regarding alleged election interference.

In March 2022, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols found the application of 1512(c)(2) against Fischer inappropriate and dismissed the charges. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned this decision for the District of Columbia Circuit a year later.

Legal Experts Weigh In On Justice Department's Stance

Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the Biden administration, was pushed to clarify the boundaries of the statute. In response to aggressive questioning, she conceded that peaceful but disruptive protest might not necessarily meet the threshold of 'corrupt intent' required by the statute.

To the extent that your hypotheticals are pressing on the idea of a peaceful protest, even one that’s quite disruptive, it’s not clear to me that the government would be able to show that each of those protesters had corrupt intent.

The scrutiny from the justices reflects a broader concern that the government's interpretation could infringe upon protected First Amendment activities, like peaceful protests, by labeling them as obstructive.

Skeptical Views Of Court Reflect Broader Uncertainties

Observer Jonathan Turley noted that Elizabeth Prelogar seemed "on the ropes" as the court dissected the potential for broad application. Carrie Severino echoed this sentiment, stating the government struggled to justify its broad interpretation without infringing on constitutional rights.

Julie Kelley summarized the oral arguments by noting the justices' significant skepticism toward the Justice Department's approach, raising concerns about the latitude of legal interpretations and their implications for basic rights.

Conclusion: The Impact Of Judicial Review

As the Supreme Court deliberates the extent of the obstruction statute's application, the outcome will affect those implicated in the Capitol riots and set a precedent for how broadly such legal tools can be used against political activities. The balance between upholding the law and safeguarding constitutional freedoms remains delicate.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

Top Articles



Receive information on new articles posted, important topics and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. 
Unsubscribe at any time.

Recent Articles

Recent Analysis

Copyright © 2024 -
A Project of Connell Media.