In an astounding bit of hubris, attorneys for Sen. Elizabeth Warren are signaling that the Massachusetts senator should be exempt from defamation laws…precisely because she is a sitting U.S. senator. This bizarre and legally unusual assertion comes as Warren is being sued by 10 Covington Catholic teenagers in the wake of her lying, defaming remarks about them, stemming from the incident in January at the Lincoln Memorial. Warren was one of many high-profile figures to pile onto Nick Sandmann and his friends, taking a single picture as evidence that they were evil neo-Nazis just waiting for their chance to intimidate and bully a Native American.
In a brief to the court, Warren’s attorneys argued that the case should be moved from the Kenton County Circuit Court to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, mostly because the senator intends to claim immunity from liability.
“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. The senator, they indicated, would be raising “federal immunity and jurisdictional defenses in this action.”
“Senator Warren’s alleged conduct was taken under ‘color of her office,” her attorneys continued. “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.”
Now, first of all: It seems a bit spurious for Warren’s lawyers to argue that because she’s a sitting lawmaker, part of her duties include commenting on Twitter about the news of the day. We don’t deny that politicians MAKE that their business, but we’re not sure that actually qualified as doing the people’s work in Washington.
Second of all, here’s what Warren wrote that got her included in the lawsuit: “Omaha elder and Vietnam War veteran Nathan Phillips endured hateful taunts with dignity and strength, then urged us all to do better.”
This was the take presented by Phillips himself (who is in no way a Vietnam War veteran) and the media on the first day after the picture-seen-round-the-world, but it didn’t take long for the public to get a much more clarifying view of what went down. There were hateful taunts, all right, but they were targeted at the Covington Catholic kids, not Phillips. There was “dignity and strength,” yes, but it emanated from Sandmann, who stood his ground peacefully while this instigator walked up to him and began drumming in his face.
“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,” said Covington attorney Robert Barnes. “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.’”
Well, when you put it that way, you can see why she might have been confused…