Twenty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that President Clinton was not immune from a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones.
Now, the nation’s highest court may yet again be drawn into addressing the president’s alleged sexual misconduct. In a court filing Monday, attorneys for President Trump argued that he should be immune from a defamation suit brought by Summer Zervos, a former “Apprentice” contestant who claims Trump groped her at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007.
In the Jones case, Clinton’s attorneys argued that the separation-of-powers doctrine under the U.S. Constitution meant that he could not be sued while he was in office for conduct predating his presidency. The court unanimously rejected that claim.
Trump’s attorneys argue that the Jones precedent does not apply to Trump because the Jones case was filed in federal court while Zervos brought her claim in state court in New York.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Zervos, contends Trump is indeed subject to litigation for his conduct prior to assuming office.
“The United States Supreme Court addressed this legal immunity issue in Clinton v. Jones and determined unanimously that no man is above the law and that includes the president of the United States,” Allred said. “We look forward to arguing this issue in court.”
In their motion, first reported by the Hollywood Reporter, Trump’s lawyers state that they will argue that Trump is immune from the lawsuit under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that federal law supersedes state law.
“As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, courts should show great deference to the president and his duties,” attorney Marc E. Kasowitz wrote.
Kasowitz said that Trump will pursue a motion to dismiss the lawsuit or put it on hold for the duration of his presidency. He also argued that all other issues in the case should be put on hold until the immunity question is resolved “and all appeals exhausted.”
In the Jones case, the Supreme Court explicitly did not address whether it would have granted presidential immunity from a lawsuit originating in state court.
“If this case were being heard in a state forum, instead of advancing a separation-of-powers argument, petitioner would presumably rely on federalism and comity concerns, as well as the interest in protecting federal officials from possible local prejudice that underlies the authority to remove certain cases brought against federal officers from a state to a federal court,” wrote Justice John Paul Stevens. “Whether those concerns would present a more compelling case for immunity is a question that is not before us.”
Trump’s motion also requests a 60-day delay in briefing deadlines, in part due to “the President and his staff’s exceptionally busy schedule particularly during his first 100 days in office.”