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July 5, 2024

The ruling illustrates a broader trend of judges shielding executive officials from accountability.

WASHINGTON – On the Fourth of July, a federal judge dismissed claims filed under District of Columbia law against former attorney general William Barr and other federal officials who ordered or participated in the violent June 1, 2020, attack on civil rights protestors at Lafayette Square near the White House. The court ruled that District of Columbia law does not provide a basis for suing over violations of the U.S. Constitution.

This ruling comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s July 1, 2024 ruling that former President Trump is at least presumptively immune from criminal liability for his official acts, and is absolutely immune for some “core” of them — including his attempts to use the Justice Department to obstruct the results of the election.

The lawsuit, Black Lives Matter D.C. v. Barr, is a class action 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.

“This decision underscores a troubling trend of courts shielding high-ranking officials, like former Attorney General William Barr, from accountability for violating the public’s most basic rights,” said ACLU-D.C. Senior Counsel Art Spitzer. “Our fight is far from over. We will continue to pursue every legal recourse we can to achieve accountability for the brutality that took place at Lafayette Square. The principles we are fighting for are clear: no official is above the Constitution, and Americans must be secure in their right to protest."

The same judge previously denied federal claims against the same officials in June 2021, ruling that federal officials cannot be sued for monetary compensation for violating constitutional rights whenever they do so against a crowd near the White House. That ruling was affirmed by the court of appeals in May 2023. However, the 2021 ruling 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.

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 the Secret Service policies relating to demonstrations.

The July 4, 2024 opinion can be found here.

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