We live in a free country. Anyone can sue anyone. An astonishing number of frivolous claims are made all the time. I don’t know if the lawsuit by Stormy Daniels has one iota of merit, and I’m certainly not going there. But Time magazine and others have raised the issue if a president can be sued in civil court. Trump came to power with a lot of legal actions pending against him. Can he be dragged into court while president? The short answer is – it depends on the case. And it is a real uphill legal battle if you’re suing a billionaire president.
There exists “Presidential Immunity” which is based on the separation of the judicial and executive branches. Theoretically, if there was an open door to frivolous lawsuits against the president, the president could be so bogged down with having to respond to them, he could not perform his duties. It would make the executive branch subordinate to the judicial branch, contrary to the separate and equal branches of government per our constitution.
If there is one individual who was responsible for breaking down this wall of presidential immunity, it was Paula Jones, or more specifically Paula Jones legal team. The initial sexual harassment case began when Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas. Paula Jones claimed that in 1991, Clinton propositioned her and exposed himself in the Governor’s mansion. She filed in 1994, and the judge dismissed this case, on the basis that a sitting president can not be sued while in office. Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and now is considered a landmark case. The Supreme Court sided with Paula Jones and allowed her sexual harassment case to proceed in court. Ultimately, the case was dismissed in a summary judgment for lack of merit. The decision was appealed and ultimately settled for $850,000. Paula Jones lawyers got $650,000 and she got $200,000. Clinton through his lawyers has always maintain his innocence. The Jones case led to the Monica Lewinsky case, and the impeachment of President Clinton, which failed during the Senate trial phase.
If any of the many litigants are able to get their day in civil court against President Trump, they will be citing the Supreme Court landmark case, Clinton v. Jones which gives them the right to sue the president for actions prior to becoming president. See Wikipedia link. There are a lot of ironies to all this. Clinton could have paid Jones, the $700,000 she was asking for in 1994. Also, if Bill Clinton had settled out of court with Jones, the case would not have ended up in the Supreme Court, and future Presidents could still be claiming immunity. It was Clinton who appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, after the appellate court ruled against him.
Paula Jones was a strong supporter of Donald Trump, yet she must now be re-thinking her allegiance in light of all the denials by Trump.