Supreme Court to hear major challenge to felony statute used against Jan. 6 Capitol rioters

The DOJ has used the statute against hundreds of defendants.

December 13, 2023, 11:19 AM

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday announced it will take up a major challenge to a felony obstruction statute the Justice Department has used against more than 300 defendants in their investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Any ruling against the use of the "obstruction of an official proceeding" statute would raise the potential that hundreds of cases that federal prosecutors have brought against rioters they accuse of engaging in some of the more serious conduct that threatened the electoral certification on Jan. 6 could be upended.

PHOTO: Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images

The same felony charge is also among the four brought by special counsel Jack Smith in his federal election subversion case against former President Donald Trump.

It's unclear whether the high court's decision to take up the obstruction case Wednesday could have an impact on Trump's ongoing efforts to delay his own case given Trump is not accused of participating in the physical breach of the Capitol.

The appeal stems from a consolidation of three separate cases brought against alleged rioters accused of attempting to disrupt the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 -- after a federal judge in the D.C. District Court dismissed the felony count for the defendants by arguing prosecutors interpreted language of the statute too broadly.

That judge, Carl Nichols, is the only judge in the D.C. District Court to have issued such a ruling against the Justice Department's use of the statute with regards to the Jan. 6 certification, and in April a three judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of DOJ.

The Supreme Court will consider arguments over whether DOJ is improperly interpreting the Enron-era statute in applying it to those who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 as “corruptly” attempting to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

Attorneys for accused Jan. 6 rioter Joseph Fischer, as well as two others, have argued the statute requires there to be a showing that evidence was tampered with, an argument which was dismissed by the appeals court panel.

The decision by the Supreme Court will mark the first time the justices hear arguments related to the investigation of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, which remains ongoing and is believed to be the most expansive criminal probe in DOJ’s history.