A federal judge in California has given the green light to an effort by the Jan. 6 House Committee to subpoena Chapman University, a private educational institution in Orange, California, after Trump-ally John Eastman tried to block the subpoena.
The Jan. 6 Committee, created in a partisan vote during summer 2021, is almost exclusively chaired by Democrats. Only two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), sit on the committee, and both have faced strong backlash for their roles on the Democrat-dominated committee.
The committee was allegedly created to uncover the truth about the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally. During the rally, scores of unarmed protestors entered the Capitol building, causing minor damage. The only death that day was that of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by an unidentified federal agent while reportedly trying to deescalate the situation. No lawmakers were wounded or harmed during the breach.
Though the protestors were unarmed and caused minor damage, the Jan. 6 Committee and its Democratic allies have continued to insist that the rally was the result of a conspiracy among senior Republican officials to overthrow the U.S. government.
Since its creation last summer, the committee has attempted to find evidence that the so-called insurrection was the result of such a conspiracy and has doled out subpoenas to Trump’s former staff and his Republican allies.
Initially, these subpoenas were almost exclusively targeted at former White House officials. After former White House adviser Steve Bannon and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows refused subpoenas from the committee, both were charged by the committee with contempt of Congress, despite their claims to executive privilege.
Recently, the Jan. 6 Committee has begun to expand its search for the still-undiscovered evidence of criminal sedition, issuing subpoenas against sitting members of Congress—Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.), both of whom have refused the request—as well as to internet celebrities such as Nick Fuentes and others.
Another such subpoena was issued against Chapman University on Jan. 18. The subpoena gave the school only three days to hand over its communications with attorney John Eastman.
On Jan. 22, Central California District Judge David O. Carter put a temporary hold on the subpoena, ruling that Eastman and his clients faced “a substantial risk” of irreparable harm if the requested documents were handed over. The temporary hold would remain in place pending further inquiry.
Eastman said the commission’s request violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and his Fourth Amendment right to immunity from “unreasonable search and seizure.”
At about 7 p.m. PST, after Carter had reviewed the arguments of both sides, he overturned his original hold. Contending that “the public interest” in Chapman University’s communications with Eastman is “weighty and urgent,” Carter gave the green light to the legislative subpoena (pdf).
In his ruling, Carter noted that Eastman, like millions of other Americans, has expressed concerns about the 2020 election, which many have said was rife with fraud. The matter has remained controversial since President Joe Biden was sworn in, and a recent public opinion poll shows that a wide swath of voters across the political spectrum continue to believe that Biden didn’t fairly win the election, including 68 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents, and 14 percent of Democrats.
Though U.S. courts usually take a hands-off approach to such partisan issues, Carter opined on the controversy in his ruling. Carter said there was a “lack of any evidence of voter fraud or election tampering,” and he rejected Eastman’s claim that the 2020 election was “one of the most controversial in American history.”
Carter stated that Eastman’s position on the 2020 election was a precipitating factor of the breakdown of order during the Jan. 6, 2021, rally and thus ruled that the committee’s subpoena was valid.
The extent of the Jan. 6 Committee’s authority to issue such subpoenas has been a matter of significant controversy for some time.
After the committee began to issue subpoenas for former Trump officials, several of them, such as Bannon and Meadows, claimed that they were protected from the subpoenas by executive privilege. Despite a dearth of legislative precedent to sort out the competing claims of legislative subpoena power and executive privilege, the committee moved ahead with a contempt of Congress charge.
Just before Bannon’s charge was certified by the House, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that because of this lack of precedent, the subpoenas were “invalid” pending further litigation.
As it has expanded its search for still-unfound evidence of a high-level conspiracy to criminal sedition, the commission has also determined that it has the authority to seize the phone and text records of Trump allies. It has used this newfound power not only to seize the communications of former White House officials such as Meadows, but also the communications between Fox News anchors and senior Republicans on Jan. 6, 2021.
Even with Carter’s ruling against Eastman, the case could make its way to higher courts, including federal Courts of Appeal or the Supreme Court.
Eastman didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.
Carter, a Clinton-appointee, has historically leaned left in his rulings.
In 2000, Orange County blocked students from forming a “Gay-Straight Alliance Club” on public campuses. The would-be founders brought suit against the county and, in one of the first rulings of its kind, Carter forced Orange County to allow the club.
In 2009, Carter dismissed a lawsuit charging that President Barack Obama was ineligible to sit in the Oval Office because of ongoing controversies about the former Illinois citizen’s country of birth. Carter dismissed the case, ruling that Congress, not the judiciary, had jurisdiction in such disputes.
In an April 2021 opinion, Carter ruled in a 110-page decision that homeless people in Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row must be offered housing at the public’s expense by October 2021. The decision was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals just weeks before the ruling was set to go into effect.