The NAACP filed a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump and others over their role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — and it cites a rarely used law passed after the Civil War.
The suit — filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat — alleges that Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and the groups the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 when they attempted to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election.
“The defendants each intended to prevent, and ultimately delayed, members of Congress from discharging their duty commanded by the United States Constitution to approve the results of the Electoral College in order to elect the next President and Vice President of the United States,” the suit says.
It goes on to say Trump and Giuliani “engaged in a concerted campaign to misinform their supporters and the public, encouraging and promoting intimidation and violence in furtherance of their common plan to promote the re-election” of Trump.
A spokesperson for Trump said in a statement to The Hill that Trump did not incite violence, pointing to his recent acquittal of impeachment charges in the U.S. Senate. Giuliani didn’t respond to a request for comment from CNN.
At a a rally prior to the Jan. 6 siege, Trump told his supporters to march on Capitol Hill and touted false claims that the election was fraudulent and stolen from him. Rioters then did and stormed the building as Congress was certifying the election results — forcing lawmakers to evacuate and resulting in five deaths.
Lawmakers from both parties, at least in part, pinned the attack on Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the election, and a week later, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached him on a charge that he incited an insurrection. The U.S. Senate then held a trial on whether to convict him of that charge and eventually acquitted him Saturday.
Now, the lawsuit says Trump and others violated the Ku Klux Klan Act by conspiring to prevent members of Congress from “discharging these official duties.” Here’s what to know about the act.
History of the Ku Klux Klan Act
When the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1868, it granted citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States, including formerly enslaved people. It also guaranteed citizens equal protection under the law.
Despite the amendment, there were efforts in some states to deny Black citizens their rights and to undermine Reconstruction, or the reintegration of southern states that had been part of the Confederacy.
“Members of the Ku Klux Klan, for example, terrorized Black citizens for exercising their right to vote, running for public office, and serving on juries,” the U.S. Senate archives say.
So, Congress passed multiple “enforcement acts” in 1870 and 1871 in response. Included in the statutes was a provision nicknamed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which was introduced in March 1871 by Rep. Samuel Shellabarger of Ohio. It was later signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in April.
What does the act do?
The Ku Klux Klan Act was designed to eliminate the violence against Black Americans and to protect the rights of those recently freed from slavery.
It allowed the president to “use the armed forces to combat those who conspired to deny equal protection of the laws and to suspend habeas corpus, if necessary, to enforce the act.”
And tucked into the law, parts of which were later included in Title 42 of the U.S. Code, is Section 1985. In part, the section allows civil action to be brought against anyone who prevents public officials from carrying out their duties through “force, intimidation or threat.”
The lawsuit against Trump cites this section, saying it “was intended to protect against conspiracies, through violence and intimidation, that sought to prevent Members of Congress from discharging their official duties.”
Parts of the Ku Klux Klan Act have “served as the basis for many federal court lawsuits against state and local officials,” according to the Federal Judicial Center.
Sections of the act, which has been “the subject of voluminous interpretation by the courts,” have been used in cases where a “state actor” violates rights granted by the federal government, according to Politico.
Today, the act is most commonly used in cases of unreasonable search and seizure and lawsuits related to false arrests or police brutality.
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