An appeals division of the New York State Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Trump’s request to throw out or put on hold a defamation lawsuit brought against him by a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” officially rejecting the idea that a sitting president cannot be sued in state court.
In a 3-2 ruling, New York’s Appellate Division, First Department said the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution does not provide blanket immunity to the president from having to defend himself against a civil damages action brought against him in a state court, citing a case brought against former President Clinton by Paula Jones.
“Despite the suggestion in his brief that he is the ‘embodiment of the Executive Branch,’ and though he is tasked with significant responsibilities, the President is still a person, and he is not above the law,” Justice Dianne Renwick wrote in the court’s majority ruling.
The court ruled that Trump’s argument that a sitting president cannot be sued in state court “conflicts with the fundamental principle that the United States has a ‘government of laws and not of men.’”
The case was brought by Summer Zervos, who has accused the president of making unwanted sexual advances toward her in 2007. Zervos claims that Trump repeatedly kissed her, including in one instance “very aggressively,” placed his hand on her breast and pressed his genitals against her.
In the lawsuit, Zervos alleged that Trump “wrongly smeared her” and subjected her to threats by calling her a liar during his 2016 presidential campaign.
The Hill notes:
The majority based its ruling on the Supreme Court’s 1997 decision in Clinton v. Jones. In that case, the court ruled unanimously that the Constitution does not grant a sitting president immunity from civil litigation in federal court except under highly unusual circumstances.
Zervos’s lawyer, Marianne Wang, said in a statement to ABC News that they were “very pleased” at the court’s decision.
“We are pleased that the First Department has affirmed once again that Defendant ‘is not above the law,’ ” she said in a statement.
“The case has proceeded in the trial court and discovery continues. We look forward to proving to a jury that Ms. Zervos told the truth about defendant’s unwanted sexual groping and holding him accountable for his malicious lies.”