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‘No One Is Above the Law’

September 19, 2023

Prof. Claire O. Finkelstein explores the Georgia district court decision denying Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadow’s request to move his case to federal court.

At Slate, Claire O. Finkelstein, Algernon Biddle Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy, explains that “There’s No Way the Georgia Prosecutions of Donald Trump and Mark Meadows Belong in Federal Court.”

Finkelstein focuses on the critical role the Hatch Act played in the Georgia indictment.

“The entire Georgia campaign reads like one big Hatch Act violation—a civil Hatch Act violation for federal officeholders like Meadows and a criminal Hatch Act violation for Trump for pressuring his subordinates into civil Hatch Act violations,” she writes.

Ultimately, concludes Finkelstein, “we are left with the very simple principle that Justice John Roberts articulated in the Vance case: ‘In our system of government, as this Court has often stated, no one is above the law. That principle applies, of course, to a President.’ It also applies to the president’s chief of staff.”

Finkelstein is the founder and academic director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL), a non-partisan interdisciplinary institute affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). She is a distinguished research fellow at APPC and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI). Her current research addresses national security law and policy and democratic governance with a focus on related ethical and rule of law issues.

From Slate:

Last week, Donald Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ bid to remove his criminal case to federal jurisdiction was rejected by a district court in Georgia. In an utterly pellucid, though technically dense, 49-page opinion, District Judge Steve C. Jones explained what should have been obvious from the start: attempting to manipulate state election operations as part of an illegal plot to overturn the results of a valid presidential election is not among the official duties of the chief of staff of the U.S. president. As Jones wrote: “Even if Meadows took on tasks that mirror the duties that he carried out when acting in his official role as White House Chief of Staff (such as attending meetings, scheduling phone calls, and managing the President’s time) he has failed to demonstrate how the election-related activities that serve as the basis for the charges in the Indictment are related to any of his official acts.”

This point should have been obvious to Meadows’ legal team. If the president asks the secretary of the treasury to rob a bank, she cannot claim she acted in her official capacity in performing such actions and seek to remove to federal court in order to assert an immunity defense. That’s because the Department of the Treasury is not in the business of robbing banks. Similarly, the executive branch is not in the business of overseeing state election procedure, outside the domains identified by federal law as authorizing federal enforcement of individual rights. If Trump demanded that Meadows participate in a group enterprise to overturn the results of a presidential election, he was asking him to go far beyond his job description.

Read Finkelstein’s full piece at Slate.