By Catherine Yang
Mark Meadows, former chief of staff to then-President Donald Trump, filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him in Georgia based on the supremacy clause in the Constitution.
Mr. Meadows, President Trump, and 17 other co-defendants were charged by a grand jury on Aug. 14 with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, along with 40 other counts, over their actions to challenge the 2020 Georgia general election results.
Mr. Meadows was the first co-defendant to file to have his case removed to federal court, which he did a day after the indictment. Others have indicated they will do the same. The new filing on Aug. 18 argues he is immune from state prosecution under the supremacy clause in the Constitution, as all actions listed were part of his official duties as a federal employee.
“The State’s prosecution of Mr. Meadows threatens the important federal interest in providing the President of the United States with close, confidential advice and assistance, firmly entrenched in federal law for nearly 100 years … and gives rise to precisely the sort of state interference in federal affairs the Supremacy Clause prohibits,” the 34-page motion (pdf) reads.
The supremacy clause states, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”
It establishes that federal law takes precedence over state laws, which Mr. Meadows’s attorneys argue means that states “may not impede or interfere with the actions of federal executive officials when they are carrying out federal laws,” citing a 2006 case that ruled a federal official wasn’t obligated to consider state criminal law before acting.
“While his conduct is alleged to have violated state law, it ‘can reasonably be characterized as complying with the full range of federal law,’” Mr. Meadows’s attorneys wrote.
They note that neither the case brought in Georgia nor the similar case brought by the Justice Department against President Trump in Washington for alleged conspiracy in contesting the 2020 election results accused Mr. Meadows of violating any federal laws.
The court has set an evidentiary hearing for Aug. 28 regarding Mr. Meadows’s motion for removal, ordering that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis be served a copy of the notice immediately so that she may respond no later than Aug. 23.
Mr. Meadows is pushing for state criminal proceedings to stop as soon as possible, given the prosecution’s quick timeline, arguing that both the supremacy clause and Section 1442 protect federal officials not just from liability but also from being prosecuted in state court entirely, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in previous cases.
“It is clear that the State is seeking to move quickly in the state court such that Mr. Meadows will irreparably lose this constitutional and statutory protection,” should the criminal proceedings continue, the motion reads.
The attorneys also note that Mr. Meadows’s notice to remove the case to federal court would by default affect not just the charges against him, but also the charges against all 19 defendants, whether they have a basis to remove the case or not.
The Fulton County indictment lists 161 acts of racketeering, nine of which allegedly involved Mr. Meadows.
They include setting up meetings and asking for state legislators’ contact information and participating in meetings during which President Trump took strategic advice on challenging the election results.
He was also charged with another count of “unlawfully soliciting, requesting, and importuning” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to violate his oath of office via a phone call about the state’s votes.
In his earlier notice of removal, his lawyers wrote: “Nothing Mr. Meadows is alleged in the indictment to have done is criminal per se: arranging Oval Office meetings, contacting state officials on the President’s behalf, visiting a state government building, and setting up a phone call for the President. … One would expect a Chief of Staff to the President of the United States to do these sorts of things.”
The motion argues that even if the court finds that Mr. Meadows isn’t immune under the supremacy clause, the charges should still be dropped based on First Amendment and 14th Amendment defenses.
“Whatever one thinks of the merits of the tone and tenor of the discussion with the Georgia Secretary of State, the subject matter was undeniably about public issues of political importance,” they argue.
“A candidate for public office does not cease to be a political candidate when the polls close on election day. Rather, the right to ‘vigorously and tirelessly’ advocate for one’s own election continues beyond that time.” They cited a Georgia case in which the state’s Democratic Party sued to prevent the certification of 2018 election votes until absentee ballots were counted.
All of Mr. Meadows’s actions listed in the indictment would fall under political activity, the motion argues, which is protected by the First Amendment.
The lawyers also claim that the RICO charges don’t hold up against the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, citing precedents that require punishable laws to be written such that it’s clear what they prohibit.
“Those statutes are unconstitutionally vague as applied to the charges against Mr. Meadows,” the motion reads.