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Ray Bogan

Political Correspondent

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U.S.

Supreme Court sides with Jan. 6 rioter on obstruction charge

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Ray Bogan

Political Correspondent

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On Friday, June 28, the Supreme Court limited obstruction charges the government brought against Jan. 6 rioters and former President Donald Trump. This case, like others in the high court, revolved around the meaning of individual words in a statute, in this case, it was the meaning of “otherwise.” 

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The justices were split largely ideologically. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion and was joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Jackson. Justice Barrett wrote the dissent which Justices Sotomayor and Kagan joined. 

Here’s the back story. 

Joseph Fischer went into the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021 and, in his words, “pushed police back about 25 feet.” A grand jury returned a seven count indictment against him, which included allegations of assaulting a federal officer and entering a restricted area. 

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Count three charged him with violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which imposes criminal liability on anyone who corruptly “alters, destroys, mutilates or conceals a record, document or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding.” 

The law also applies to anyone who “otherwise obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.” 

Fischer argued that the statute only applies to those who impacted the integrity or availability of evidence. The government countered that the law applies to all forms of obstructive conduct. 

In the decision, the nation’s top juris doctor explained how the majority reached its conclusion with a line that could come straight from English textbook: “Resolving such a dispute requires us to determine how the residual clause is linked to its ‘surrounding words.’” 

The justices ultimately concluded that to prove a defendant violated the statute, “the Government must establish that the defendant impaired the availability or integrity for use in an official proceeding of records, documents, objects or other things used in an official proceeding, or attempted to do so.” 

“The Court does not dispute that Congress’s joint session qualifies as an ‘official proceeding’; that rioters delayed the proceeding; or even that Fischer’s alleged conduct was part of a successful effort to forcibly halt the certification of the election results,” Justice Barrett wrote in her dissent. “Given these premises, the case that Fischer can be tried for ‘obstructing, influencing or impeding an official proceeding’ seems open and shut. So why does the Court hold otherwise? Because it simply cannot believe that Congress meant what it said.” 

Hundreds of other Jan. 6 rioters are charged with the same statute as Fischer, and so is former President Trump in the case brought forward by special counsel Jack Smith. This decision will make it more difficult for prosecutors to bring charges and secure a guilty verdict. 

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[RAY BOGAN]

The Supreme Court Friday limited obstruction charges the government brought against January 6th rioters and former president Donald Trump.

The Justices were split largely ideologically. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion and was joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Jackson. Justice Barrett wrote the dissent which Justices Sotomayor and Kagan joined. 

This case, like others in the high court, revolved around the meaning of individual words in a statute – here it was the meaning of “otherwise”. 

First, the back story. 

Joseph Fischer went into the US Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 and in his words, “pushed police back about 25 feet.” A grand jury returned a seven count indictment against him, which included allegations of assaulting a federal officer and entering a restricted area. 

Count three charged him with violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which imposes criminal liability on anyone who corruptly “alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding.” 

The law also applies to anyone who, “otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.” 

Fischer argued that the statute only applies to those who impacted the integrity or availability of evidence. The government countered that the law applies to all forms of obstructive conduct. 

In the decision, the nation’s top Juris Doctor explained how the majority reached its conclusion with a line that could come straight from english textbook: “Resolving such a dispute requires us to determine how the residual clause is linked to its ‘surrounding words.’” 

The Justices ultimately concluded that to prove a defendant violated the statute, “the Government must establish that the defendant impaired the availability or integrity for use in an official proceeding of records, documents, objects, or other things used in an official proceeding, or attempted to do so.” 

Justice Barrett wrote in her dissent: “The Court does not dispute that Congress’s joint session qualifies as an “official proceeding”; that rioters delayed the proceeding; or even that Fischer’s alleged conduct was part of a successful effort to forcibly halt the certification of the election results. Given these premises, the case that Fischer can be tried for “obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding” seems open and shut. So why does the Court hold otherwise? Because it simply cannot believe that Congress meant what it said.” 

Hundreds of other January 6 rioters are charged with the same statute as Fischer. 

Former President Donald Trump is as well in the case brought forward by Special Counsel Jack Smith. This decision will make it more difficult for prosecutors to bring charges and secure a guilty verdict.