NEW YORK (AP) — Appeals court judges weighing President Donald Trump’s bid to shut down a former “Apprentice” contestant’s defamation suit against him are asking a hypothetical question: Could a New York court order the president to jail if he were to buck an order in the case?
The question came up — but wasn’t definitively answered — as lawyers for Trump and ex-contestant Summer Zervos argued Thursday in a New York appeals court.
Zervos sued Trump for calling her a liar after she accused him of unwanted kissing and groping from a 2007 incident. Trump’s lawyers are trying to get the case dismissed or delayed until after his presidency.
Thursday’s court session focused on one of the Trump legal team’s central arguments: that a sitting president can’t be sued in a state court over conduct outside official duties. It made for a largely law-school-like discussion about Constitutional clauses and legal interpretation.
But state Supreme Court Appellate Division Justices Peter Tom and Angela Mazzarelli had some theoretical questions about practical matters: Could a president be taken to a city small-claims court? Or jailed by a state judge who could hold the commander-in-chief in contempt of court after an order was disregarded?
Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz suggested the contempt question helped prove his point.
Zervos’ attorney, Mariann Wang, said it’s unlikely the hypothetical scenario would ever happen and the Constitution doesn’t shield a president from state court suits over non-official conduct.
“The president does not stand above the law. He is still a human being,” she said.
The appeals panel peppered both sides with queries and, as is common, didn’t immediately issue a decision.
Both sides have continued gathering evidence while they await the appeals court’s decision on whether the case can proceed, and they have been clashing over the scope of documents they should have to provide one another.
A Manhattan court is set to hear arguments on those issues next week.