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Supreme Court Narrows Which Charges Can Be Brought Against Jan. 6 Rioters

The Supreme Court has made it harder for the government to charge participants in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection with obstructing an official proceeding. The decision, handed down on Friday, casts uncertainty over hundreds of charges brought against insurrectionists.

Joseph Fischer, a now-former police officer who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, challenged a charge against him brought under a provision of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley accounting reform law that makes it illegal to obstruct an official proceeding. He argued the provision was meant to apply only to the obstruction of a proceeding by altering or destroying documents, and thus should not apply to the events of Jan. 6. The court’s majority agreed.

In a 6-3 ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court declared that the government had an obligation to prove that a defendant “impaired the availability or integrity for use in an official proceeding of records, documents, objects, or other things used in an official proceeding, or attempted to do so.”

The ruling, however, saw something of an unusual ideological split: Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch joined the majority opinion, with liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson writing a concurrence. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, meanwhile, joined liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in dissenting.

The court’s decision will likely lead to the dismissal of similar charges brought against other participants in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. About 170 participants in the attack have been convicted for obstructing an official proceeding.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee, could also see his charge under

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