Department of Justice lawyers asked a federal judge to dismiss lawsuits against former President Trump, former attorney general William Barr and other administration officials for the forced clearing of racial justice protesters at Lafayette Square in June.
The Washington, D.C., chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Black Lives Matter and other civil rights organizations sued the Trump administration and law enforcement officials for the use of chemical agents and rubber bullets to disperse protesters before Trump walked across the square to pose for photographs with a Bible outside St. John’s Episcopal Church.
The legal action also targeted the Metropolitan Police Department of D.C. and several specific officers in the actions used against protesters who had gathered in the days following the police killing of George Floyd in May, 2020.
The incident resulted in four overlapping lawsuits against the Trump administration and law enforcement agencies filed on behalf of more than 100 U.S., D.C. and Arlington County defendants.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs and the Justice Department presented oral arguments before a federal judge on Friday, with government lawyers arguing that Trump and other U.S. officials could not be included in civil lawsuits against police over actions taken to protect a president, The Washington Post reported.
Trump’s photo-op outside the church following the forced removal of more than 1,000 largely peaceful protesters has been viewed by critics as a political stunt.
According to the Post, Justice Department lawyers also argued Friday that because of Trump’s 2020 election loss, future violations are unlikely, adding that President Biden’s administration does not share the hostility Trump showed toward the wave of civil unrest and demonstrations that erupted in the months following Floyd’s death.
Meanwhile, ACLU attorneys argued that by dismissing the lawsuits, the court would “authorize brutality with impunity” near the White House. The ACLU of D.C.’s legal director, Scott Michelman, said U.S. authorities “could have used live ammunition to clear the park, and nobody would have a claim against that as an assault on their constitutional rights.”
The Justice Department responded by calling presidential security a “paramount” government interest, according to the Post.
After nearly three hours of oral arguments, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich of Washington said she would deliver rulings on motions to dismiss the lawsuits “in the near future.”
The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.
Lafayette Square reopened earlier this month for the first time since it was shuttered following the police removal of the protesters.