WASHINGTON – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today denied an appeal regarding constitutional claims against former Attorney General William Barr and other federal officials who ordered or participated in the violent and unprovoked June 1, 2020 attack on civil rights protestors at Lafayette Square near the White House, when then-President Trump posed for a photo-op with a Bible in front of St. John’s Church.  

While two of the three judges on today’s panel made clear that they thought the injured protesters ought to be able to sue, they agreed that the Supreme Court’s recent decisions had essentially made it impossible for people to sue federal officials for damages when those officials violate constitutional rights.  

“Today’s decision reflects the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the core principle that when federal officers violate the Constitution, there must be a remedy. Indeed, two of the three judges on the case, despite feeling bound by the Supreme Court to rule against us, urged that there should be a remedy for these officers’ violent violations of the civil rights protesters’ core constitutional rights,” said ACLU-D.C. Legal Director Scott Michelman. “In the wake of today’s disastrous ruling, it is up to Congress to restore the full measure of constitutional accountability that we as Americans expect from our government.” 

Bills to restore constitutional claims against federal officers have been introduced in both houses of Congress -- the “Accountability for Federal Law Enforcement Act” (S. 2103) in the Senate and the “Bivens Act” (H.R. 6185) in the House.  

"This is a heartbreaking decision for our First Amendment rights and our democracy. The Court is blocking us from holding federal officials responsible for attacking me and other demonstrators when we exercised our right to protest police brutality and racism. We won't give up on fighting for our rights and the rights of others." Said Lia Poteet, one of the plaintiffs in the case who was viciously attacked by one of the federal officers.  

The Black Lives Matter D.C. class action lawsuit was brought by the ACLU of the District of Columbia, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter on behalf of Black Lives Matter D.C. and eight civil rights demonstrators who were attacked without warning by officers using tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bang grenades. The protest occurred in the wake of former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd, and it called for an end to police brutality and racism. 

A lower federal court previously ruled that federal officials cannot be sued for monetary compensation for violating constitutional rights near the White House. That ruling was upheld today. The same lower court permitted First Amendment claims to proceed against District of Columbia officers who deployed tear gas against demonstrators fleeing the federal attack because the D.C. officers were local rather than federal, and that case continues. The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of the federal defendants, and the Black Lives Matter D.C. case was consolidated with the Buchanan case, which has similar claims against the same defendants. 

On April 13, 2022, in a partial settlement of a different portion of the case, the federal government agreed to change the United States Park Police and Secret Service policies relating to demonstrations. 

Today’s opinion can be found here

More information about the lawsuit, previously called Black Lives Matter D.C. v. Trump, can be found here