A lawyer for the Covington Catholic teens blasted Sen. Elizabeth Warren for her push to claim “federal immunity” in the defamation case against her.
“This case poses an unprecedented legal question: Is election to Congress a license to libel?” attorney Robert Barnes told Law&Crime following a move by lawyers for the Massachusetts Democrat to change locations for the pending case.
Warren’s attorneys filed to move the defamation lawsuit against the 2020 presidential candidate and others from the Kenton County Circuit Court in Kentucky to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Covington Division.
“This court has jurisdiction because Plaintiffs have asserted claims against Senator Warren, an officer of the United States, for acts performed under color of such office,” Warren’s attorneys wrote.
They noted the intention to raise “federal immunity and jurisdictional defenses in this action” as a reason behind the request to move the case filed by 10 Covington Catholic teens who charged Warren and CNN’s Ana Navarro, Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, comedian Kathy Griffin, activist and journalist Shaun King and ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, among others, of making defamatory comments.
The encounter between the Kentucky high school students and Native American activists at Washington’s Lincoln Memorial during a March for Life rally in January sparked intense backlash and reactions as a viral video showed the infamous moments when Nathan Phillips banged on a drum and chanted while facing student Nick Sandmann.
The lawsuit alleged that Warren and the other defendants jumped to conclusions about the video, libeling the minors and portraying them as racists based on an event they did not even personally witness.
“Senator Warren’s alleged conduct was taken under ‘color of [her] office [citations removed],” Warren’s attorneys wrote. “The tweet that forms the basis of Plaintiffs’ claims against Senator Warren was not only issued from her official Senate account, it communicated (to her constituents, among others) an opinion regarding a noteworthy and highly-publicized event, and such communication falls within the scope of her duties as a Member of Congress.”
The tweet cited in the complaint was posted by Warren in January following the incident.
Omaha elder and Vietnam War veteran Nathan Phillips endured hateful taunts with dignity and strength, then urged us all to do better.
Listen to his words: https://t.co/ymHRxVA91K
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) January 20, 2019
The Democrat lawmaker is now seeking immunity from the claims and Barnes slammed the move as effectively sending a message that she has a “license to lie.”
“Instead of an apology, Senator Warren’s message to the Covington Kids is she has a license to lie; she’s a United States Senator,” Barnes told Law&Crime.
“All you have to do is put ‘Senator’ before your name on social media, and you can lie about anyone you want, anytime you want, and call it a ‘public service,’” he added.
According to Law&Crime:
The plaintiffs have alleged that the defendants defamed them per se, and subjected them to “public hatred, contempt, scorn, obloquy, and shame.”
Plaintiffs have demanded a jury trial and judgment no less than $15,000 but no more than $50,000 against each of the named defendants ($50,000 x 12/8 = $75,000). They seek compensation for costs, expenses, attorneys fees, as well as declaratory and equitable relief from the court.
A ruling on the notice of removal is not expected before October.
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