DOJ Argues Protesters' Lafayette Square Lawsuit Should Be Dropped as Trump's Out of Office

Department of Justice lawyers want to dismiss lawsuits filed against former President Donald Trump after he had Lafayette Square cleared of Black Lives Matter protesters for a photo op last June because he is no longer president.

Christopher Hair, a Justice Department attorney, said that because President Joe Biden is now in office and unlikely to carry out similar actions, the lawsuits are unneeded.

"These lawsuits seek to prevent a recurrence of the June 1 events in Lafayette Square," Hair said.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that Trump and then-Attorney General William Barr "unlawfully conspired to violate" the civil rights of protesters when they were forcibly removed.

Attorney Randy Mastro said that law enforcement used smoke bombs, pepper balls and other instances of force to clear the protesters, leaving a number with burns, bruising breathing issues and psychological distress.

"Why did it happen?" Mastro asked. "Was it the curfew? The park was cleared before the curfew. Was it to stop violence? The attorney general himself has said there was no violence there that day."

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich listened to arguments regarding whether the case should be rejected and will announce a decision later, the Associated Press reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

DOJ Lawsuit
Department of Justice lawyers want to dismiss lawsuits filed against former President Donald Trump after he had Lafayette Square cleared of Black Lives Matter protesters for a photo op last June because he is no longer president. Above, police clear the area around Lafayette Park and the White House in Washington, D.C., as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd on June 1, 2020. Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Mastro said the justification for the action has constantly shifted, but he said it's clear from Trump's own tweets that "these protesters were targeted because of their viewpoint, their message, their speech."

"Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination," Trump wrote the day after the square was cleared. The president also shared a letter on Twitter that referred to the protesters as "terrorists."

"The conduct here was so flagrantly unlawful and so obviously unconstitutional that it requires a remedy. And we are here today, your honor, to do everything we can to see that nothing like this ever happens again in our country," Mastro said.

Lawyers for the administration and the former officials said in addition to the litigation now being unnecessary, their clients have immunity because they were performing necessary law enforcement functions to secure a space for the president of the United States.

Another attorney for the protesters said the change of the administration is not enough to do away with the case, arguing that the new administration has not completely repudiated the conduct or showed it can never happen again.

The judge questioned why it would be unreasonable to clear the park for the president, noting that the large crowd would present a security risk.

"To me, it seems quite obvious that you need to clear the square that he needs to walk through before he reaches the church. Why is that not reasonable for the defendants to do?" the judge asked, though she said she understands the lawyers' concerns about the level of force that was used to do so.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the group Black Lives Matter D.C. and individual protesters who were present. It is filed by the ACLU of DC, Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Arnold & Porter.

BLM
Department of Justice lawyers want to dismiss lawsuits filed against former President Donald Trump after he had Lafayette Square cleared of Black Lives Matter protesters for a photo op last June because he is no longer president. Above, a Black Lives Matter protester holds a sign and shouts slogans during a march on the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, in Brooklyn, New York, on May 25, 2021. Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images