In a surprising legal maneuver, former President Donald Trump's legal team argues that his false claims about the 2020 election results are protected under the First Amendment.
In a case relating to efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, Trump's defense is based on a 2012 Supreme Court case that established the constitutional right to make false statements.
The crux of the argument presented by Trump’s legal team hinges on the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Alvarez. In this 2012 case, the Court overturned a man’s conviction for falsely claiming military honors, asserting that such lies were protected under the First Amendment. This precedent forms the backbone of the defense's current strategy.
In the Alvarez case, the Supreme Court ruled that Xavier Alvarez had a right to lie under free speech protections. The lawyers representing Trump have drawn heavily on this precedent in their court filings and arguments.
Trump has been indicted on four counts related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. The charges against him include conspiracy to defraud the government and obstruct an official proceeding.
However, Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges, with his legal team arguing that the case against him is built entirely on his alleged false statements.
The lawyers assert that Trump's words were not just casual remarks but protected political speech and advocacy. They are challenging the prosecution's case on the grounds that it aims to criminalize constitutionally protected actions.
The timeline of events surrounding the case begins in November 2020, with Joe Biden's Presidential election win. By January 2021, supporters of Trump had stormed the US Capitol building.
By 2022, Trump was indicted on charges related to overturning the election, and his lawyers filed a motion in November of the same year arguing that the case was unconstitutional.
From the defense's perspective, Trump exercised his right to free speech, even if his claims about the election were false. They argue that the prosecution has not identified any non-speech or non-advocacy conduct in the indictment because there is none.
Trump's lawyers have said:
"The prosecution states that President Trump 'had a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the [2020 presidential] election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-determinative fraud during the election and that he had won,' but claims President Trump violated the law because he allegedly 'did not stop there.'"
The legal wrangling continues in Washington D.C., with the former President's legal team leaning heavily on the Alvarez precedent in their argument. The outcome of this case could have significant implications for interpreting the First Amendment rights in the United States.