Judges Dubious of Mark Meadows’ Bid to Avoid Facing Charges in Georgia State Court

Judges Dubious of Mark Meadows’ Bid to Avoid Facing Charges in Georgia State Court – On Friday, a federal appeals court panel expressed skepticism about former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows‘ attempt to transfer and potentially dismiss state charges accusing him of attempting to interfere with the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.

The entire 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel posed pointed inquiries regarding Meadows’ assertion that his position as Donald Trump’s chief of staff necessitates federal court jurisdiction, challenging the idea that the case involving him, Trump, and 17 others charged with an alleged racketeering conspiracy should be overseen by federal courts rather than those in Fulton County, Ga.

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In a 50-minute oral argument session in Atlanta, the appellate judges displayed notable doubt regarding Meadows’ attempt to argue that his actions to assist Trump in securing a second term, even after states had certified his defeat (which forms the core of the charges against him in Georgia), should be considered part of his official duties as chief of staff.

“That just cannot be right,” said Judge Robin Rosenbaum, an appointee of President Barack Obama. She specifically cited “electioneering on behalf of a specific political candidate” and “an alleged effort to unlawfully change the outcome of the election” as examples of what would fall outside a government official’s duties.

The significance of Meadows’ official duties is crucial because, according to federal law, U.S. officials can move a case from state to federal court if it relates to their official actions. This “removal” process might lead to charges being dismissed if a federal judge concurs that Meadows’ actions were a valid exercise of his official responsibilities.

Judge Nancy Abudu, appointed by President Joe Biden, pointed out that the Hatch Act, another federal law, bars government officials from participating in political activities while in their official capacity. In a concerning development for Meadows, Chief Judge William Pryor Jr., a staunch conservative on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, indicated his disbelief that the removal procedure applies to former officials.

He argued that Congress might reasonably prefer removal only for current officials, as state charges against former officials do not disrupt the “ongoing operations of the federal government.” “That heightened concern might not exist where you have a former officer,” said Pryor, an appointee of President George W. Bush. “We normally have a presumption that the separate sovereign of a state and its courts are equally faithful to the Constitution of the law and can be trusted.”

Pryor emphasized that the charges against Meadows seem unrelated to the functioning of the Biden administration. Despite their overall skepticism of Meadows’ legal interpretation, all three judges on the panel pondered whether permitting state prosecutions of former federal officials might have a “chilling effect” on current federal officials.

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Meadows’ attorney, George Terwilliger III, who held positions as deputy attorney general and acting attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, capitalized on this discussion, asserting that he would have approached his federal duties differently if he knew he could face prosecution in state court after leaving office. “My decision-making would have been really different if I knew the moment I stepped down, I could be charged in a state court,” Terwilliger declared.

Prosecutor Donald Wakeford from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office argued that deterring current officials from engaging in crimes would be beneficial. Without explicitly mentioning Trump, the prosecutor referenced U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s recent ruling, which dismissed a challenge to Trump’s federal prosecution for actions related to the 2020 election, highlighting the acceptance of such deterrence. 

These are exceptional circumstances,” Wakeford said. Given the frequent advocacy for “textualism” by numerous conservative judges and attorneys, emphasizing a strict adherence to the text for interpreting laws, Terwilliger, in Meadows’ case, found himself in the uncomfortable position of urging judges to interpret the removal statute in a way that includes former officers, even though they are not explicitly mentioned in the pertinent part of the law.

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Terwilliger employed this approach by highlighting potential serious consequences if the courts were to affirm the permissibility of state prosecutions against former federal officials. That “would lead to chaos,” he insisted. Pryor maintained skepticism regarding Terwilliger’s interpretation of Congress’s intent in enacting the statute. In September, a federal district judge rejected Meadows’ attempt to shift his prosecution to federal court. 

The 11th Circuit panel is currently reviewing Meadows’ appeal of that decision. If granted the transfer to federal court, Meadows’ legal team intends to promptly file a motion to dismiss the case entirely, citing interference with federal prerogatives. While Trump faces charges alongside Meadows in the state case, the former president chose not to pursue moving his prosecution to federal court.

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