Justice Gorsuch befuddles Biden admin attorney defending dubious 'obstruction' prosecutions of Jan. 6 defendants by highlighting unpunished leftist disruptions

 April 19, 2024

The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in a challenge against the Biden administration's overbroad application of a particular "obstruction" criminal statute that includes lengthy prison sentences against hundreds of Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendants.

Justice Neil Gorsuch almost single-handedly destroyed the administration's defense of the questionable practice by highlighting several high-profile instances where the same statute seemingly could have, but wasn't, used against Democratic and leftist defendants, according to Townhall.

Those examples included leftist activists disrupting congressional and court hearings, BLM and Antifa protesters and rioters blocking access to federal buildings and courthouses, and most hilariously, Rep. Jamaal Bowman's (D-NY) pulling of a fire alarm to delay a congressional vote last year.

The statute in question

In the case known as Fischer v. United States, the Supreme Court justices were asked to consider "Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit erred in construing 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c), which prohibits obstruction of congressional inquiries and investigations, to include acts unrelated to investigations and evidence."

18 U.S.C. § 1512(c) states: "Whoever corruptly -- (1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or (2) otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both."

More than 300 Jan. 6 defendants have been charged under that statute for supposedly acting "corruptly" with an intent to "obstruct" the congressional certification of President Joe Biden's 2020 electoral victory by way of the 2021 protest turned riot that delayed the quadrennial proceeding for a few hours.

Gorsuch trips up SG Prelogar

To nail down the "breadth" of the administration's interpretation of what would qualify for prosecution under that particular statute, Justice Gorsuch raised several examples of disruptive incidents committed by leftist individuals during "mostly peaceful protests" over the past several years during his questioning of Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar.

"Would a sit-in that disrupts a trial, or access to a federal courthouse qualify? Would a heckler in today's audience qualify, or at the State of the Union address? Would pulling a fire alarm before a vote qualify for 20 years in federal prison?" Gorsuch asked.

Prelogar initially attempted to dance around the questions by suggesting that certain elements of the alleged crimes would need to be proven to show a "nexus" between their actions and the disruptive outcomes, to which Gorsuch replied, "Well, yeah, they were trying to stop the proceedings."

The solicitor general then said prosecutors would also have to show that the perpetrators in the cited examples acted "corruptly" and provide the court with "evidence of intent," at which the justice stated, "Oh, they intend to do it alright."

How will the court ultimately rule?

SCOTUSblog reported that Justice Gorsuch was not alone in tripping up Solicitor General Prelogar in questioning the Biden administration's broad interpretation of 1512(c)(2) that has seemingly only been narrowly applied to Jan. 6 defendants, as Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, and even Chief Justice John Roberts all expressed skepticism or similarly raised instances of apparent unequal application of the law.

The three liberal justices, quite predictably, seemed fine with what the administration has been doing to only the Jan. 6 defendants, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett appeared to try to split the difference and suggest that the broad interpretation could be narrowed but still applied to the generally pro-Trump protesters at the U.S. Capitol.

A final decision will likely come at the end of the term in June or July, and if the court rules in favor of the Jan. 6 defendants, hundreds of them could see their prison sentences reduced, have their cases retried, or even have charges dropped altogether.

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Thomas Jefferson
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