“Supreme Court to weigh if Jan. 6 rioters can be charged with obstruction”

Ann Marimow for WaPo:

Defense lawyers say prosecutors overreachedby charging rioters with a crime that is limited to conduct that destroys or tampers with evidence sought by investigators. The government’s broad application of the statute, the lawyerswarned in court filings, would allow prosecutors to target protesters or lobbyists who disrupt congressional committees….

The Justice Department said there are no examples of prosecutors using the statute passed two decades ago to target such behavior, which is protected by the First Amendment. Government lawyers argue that the violent disruption of the peaceful transfer of power after a presidential election, including attacks on police officers, is no minor interference.

But the challengers’argument may be persuasive to some Supreme Court justices,several of whom have voted in past years to narrow the use of other laws they say were applied too broadly.One example is the high court’s unanimous 2016 decision to overturn the corruption conviction of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell,in which the court expressed concern about prosecutors’ “boundless interpretation” of the federal bribery statute….\

Much of the discussion on Tuesday is expected to center on how to properly interpret the text of a statute Congress amended in 2002 as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which followed the Enron scandal. As the justices mull how narrowly or broadly prosecutors can apply the statute, the meaning of the word “otherwise” will play a central role.

The law includes a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for anyone who “corruptly — (1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or (2) otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.”…

All but one of the 15 judges overseeing Jan. 6-related cases in theD.C. federal courthousehave sided with the government on this question, ruling that the rioters who sought to keep Congress from certifying Biden’s victory were “otherwise” obstructing that proceeding. The outlier was U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols, a Trump nominee, who said the word “otherwise” refers only to other efforts to tamper with or destroy records or documents.

divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed that ruling, which Judge Florence Pan — a Biden nominee — said was too narrow and at odds with the text of the statute. “We cannot assume, and think it unlikely, that Congress used expansive language to address such narrow concerns,” she wrote, joined in part by Judge Justin Walkerwho was nominated by Trump….

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