President Donald Trump was not inciting violence when he urged his supporters to eject protesters from a campaign rally, and those demonstrators had no First Amendment right to protest at his rally in the first place, Trump’s lawyers argued in a court motion Thursday.
“Mr. Trump was not ‘inciting a riot’ but was rather exercising a core First Amendment freedom when he said ‘[G]et ‘em out of here’ and ‘Don’t hurt ‘em,'” Trump’s lawyers argued in a motion asking the court to dismiss a lawsuit by three protesters.
The protesters sued Trump and some of his supporters, claiming Trump should be held responsible for inciting a riot and engaging in negligent speech when he urged supporters to eject the three protesters from a March 2016 campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky. The protesters claim in their lawsuit called that they were injured by violent Trump supporters who were acting on Trump’s orders.
“Of course, protesters have their own First Amendment right to express dissenting views,” Trump’s lawyers wrote, “but they have no right to do so as part of the campaign rally of the political candidates they oppose.”
Trump argued that his campaign rally was like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston and the protesters are like the gay activists who were banned from marching in the parade — because both are organized by non-government groups with the right to choose who attends.
“Accordingly, when a campaign has decided to exclude a message it does not like from a campaign rally, that is enough to invoke the campaign’s right as a private speaker to shape its expression by excluding or expelling demonstrators who express contrary views,” the president’s lawyers said. Trump’s legal team cited a 1995 Supreme Court decision unanimously upholding the right of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to exclude gay marchers.
Trump’s lawyers argued that the candidate had “every right” to call for the ejection of the protesters since they “obviously interfered with the Trump campaign’s First Amendment right” by “vigorously expressing their disdain for Mr. Trump” with several anti-Trump messages, including “a sign depicting Trump’s face on the body of a pig.”
The federal district judge presiding over the lawsuit has already rejected Trump’s motion to dismiss. The judge ruled on March 31 that at this early stage of the case, Trump cannot win dismissal based on a claim of absolute immunity under the First Amendment.
The judge also ruled that the protesters were not trespassers and had a right to attend the rally because they had obtained tickets and were permitted to enter by organizers.
Trump, who is being represented by private lawyers, asked the judge to delay the case and allow Trump to ask an appellate court to review Trump’s argument that he’s absolutely protected from the lawsuit under the First Amendment.
Trump argues that he was urging security guards, not the crowd, to eject the protesters, and that because he added, “Don’t hurt ‘em,” he was not inciting violence.