Pointing to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the president isn't immune from a New York prosecutor's criminal investigation, Manhattan judge Verna Saunders said the same principle applies to E. Jean Carroll's defamation suit, in which Trump's lawyers have argued that the Constitution bars presidents from being dragged into lawsuits in state courts.
“No, it does not,” Saunders wrote.
The decision allows Carroll — who's seeking Trump's DNA as potential evidence — to keep pursuing her suit. She says he slurred her in denying her claim that he raped her in the 1990s.
"We are now eager to move forward with discovery so that we can prove that Donald Trump defamed E. Jean Carroll when he lied about her in connection with her brave decision to tell the truth about the fact that Donald Trump had sexually assaulted her,” said her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan.
Email and phone messages were sent to Trump's lawyers about the ruling.
Carroll, who was a longtime Elle magazine advice columnist until December, went public last year with an allegation that Trump raped her in a Manhattan luxury department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. She said it happened after they ran into each other and bantered about trying on a bodysuit.
Trump said Carroll was “totally lying” to sell a memoir and that he’d never met her, though a 1987 photo showed them and their then-spouses at a social event. He said it just captured a moment when he was standing in a line.
Carroll is trying to get a DNA sample from Trump to see whether it matches as-yet-unidentified male genetic material found on a dress that she says she was wearing during the alleged attack and didn't don again until a photo shoot last year.
Trump's lawyers have argued the suit shouldn’t proceed at least until New York’s highest court decides -- in a separate case -- whether an incumbent president is shielded from all state-court suits unrelated to his official duties.
Previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions have said incumbent presidents can’t be sued anywhere over official actions — so as to prevent the prospect of suits from influencing their decision-making — but they are subject to federal civil suits regarding private behavior.
The high court hasn't specifically addressed whether suits over a president's private conduct can unfold in state courts.
Carroll’s lawyers, however, have argued the justices essentially settled the question when they ruled last month on Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s ability to subpoena Trump's tax records for a state grand jury investigation.
“We cannot conclude that absolute immunity is necessary or appropriate,” the Supreme Court said.
The ruling left leeway for Trump’s lawyers to challenge Vance’s subpoena on other grounds, and they are doing so. Trump, a Republican, has called the Democratic DA’s inquiry into his financial dealings “a pure witch hunt.”
Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz has contended that the Supreme Court's ruling “was limited to the criminal context, and its reasoning does not extend to civil actions.”
Carroll's suit seeks damages and a retraction of Trump’s statements, saying they hurt her career and reputation.
The Associated Press does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly.