Litigation Team Represents Distinguished Law Professors in Case Involving Unresolved Question of Presidential Immunity

In The News
September 22, 2017

Ropes & Gray, together with The Protect Democracy Project and Professor Richard Primus of the University of Michigan Law School (affiliation for identification purposes only), represents a group of distinguished law professors seeking to appear as amicus curiae in Zervos v. Trump, a defamation suit brought against President Trump in New York State Supreme Court by Summer Zervos, who was previously a contestant on the television show “The Apprentice.” 

On behalf of the firm’s clients, Harvard Law School professor Richard Parker, Texas Law School professor Lucas Powe Jr., and University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Stephen Burbank, Ropes & Gray has filed a proposed amicus brief addressing a key constitutional question left unresolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones, i.e., whether a sitting president is immune from civil lawsuits brought in state court based on a president’s unofficial conduct. In Clinton v. Jones, the professors submitted an amicus brief with which the Supreme Court agreed, arguing that a sitting president is not immune from civil suits brought in federal court based on a president’s unofficial conduct.

Zervos sets the stage for what should be a hotly contested debate and potentially years of appellate review on the important issue of immunity in state court, including possible review by the U.S. Supreme Court. “No one in the United States is above the law, and a sitting president can’t look to the U.S. Constitution for immunity from civil suits brought for conduct that occurred prior to his or her assumption of office,” said appellate and Supreme Court partner Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, who led the Ropes & Gray team, together with business & securities litigation partner Bob Fischler. Mr. Fischler added, “While the president contends that only federal courts can hear claims against a sitting president, we believe that there is no constitutional or practical reason why state courts, which regularly adjudicate claims against other federal officials, cannot hear claims against a president involving unofficial acts.”

In addition to Mr. Hallward-Driemeier and Mr. Fischler, the Ropes & Gray team included business & securities litigation associate Patrick Reinikainen.