Maybe not so surprisingly, we’ve received a number of inquiries from United States citizens who lost a job — and therefore health insurance — after the coronavirus resulted in a large number of layoffs. They want to know whether or not they can hold President Donald J. Trump liable in civil class action litigation for his failure to effectively respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Why does this question arise? How would it play out in court? Is it even legal?
The basis of the case would theoretically depend on whether or not President Trump’s failure to act led to the economic crisis that cost people their jobs, and indirectly their health insurance — putting them at increased risk of financial ruin or the inability to pay hospital bills after a coronavirus infection.
It wouldn’t be a difficult case to argue in court. Donald Trump knew about the dangers of coronavirus. He failed to notify the public of those dangers. He overruled steps taken by organizations like the USPS — which had initially sought to send five masks to every American household before Trump said no. He has consistently spread misinformation about the efficacy of masks. The list goes on. So it isn’t hard to prove how Donald Trump made this crisis worse than it had to be.
Unfortunately, such civil litigation is not legal anymore.
The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision on Nixon v. Fitzgerald that former President Richard Nixon could not be held liable in civil court for the consequences of his actions when in office. From a legal standpoint this makes sense. After all, in today’s hyper-polarized political world, every president would be sued by millions of citizens.
It’s important to note that the initial trial during Nixon v. Fitzgerald resulted in rulings against the president in both the original trial and the appellate court. The Supreme Court had the final say — and it ruled differently, providing the president with immunity.
But this does not mean President Trump cannot be tried in criminal court, though.