Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

An Ominous Warning to the E. Jean Carroll Jury

| May 10, 2023

A Manhattan judge's advice to jurors accurately reflects what the former president has done to democratic norms.

After many trials, the judge will dismiss the jurors by thanking them for their time and public service. These words of gratitude are usually a formality, a polite nod to a key feature of our democratic process: defendants' right, under the Seventh Amendment, to judgment by their peers in "Suits at common law." Federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan also offered a piece of practical advice to the Manhattan civil jury that had just found former President Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll in a luxury department store's dressing room in 1996: Kaplan told the jurors that they might not want to publicly identify themselves—"not now and not for a long time." Those words were jarring and yet seemed wise in light of Trump's habit of directing violence, threats, and general mayhem against the peaceful functioning of our democratic norms.

The judge’s advice sounded less like a legal requirement than like the words of a parent to an older teenager, imparted without any ability to enforce. Kaplan apparently did not give a specific reason for his statement. But he didn't need to. Everyone knows how things can unfold for people who challenge Trump, and jurors who find against him in court are highly vulnerable to whatever he might do.

Trump's political legacy is often measured by his policy impact: restrictions on immigration, lower taxes for the rich, conservative Supreme Court justices who deliver on a stridently right-wing agenda. Those changes are significant, but are also largely answerable through the same political process, voting, that made Trump only a one-term president. Trump's real, enduring legacy is his successful introduction of violence, the threat of violence, and targeted harassment into the dynamics of our political system, as if they were all just a natural extension of democratic disagreement.

The January 6 insurrection is the most obvious example. Regardless of whether he directed the exact violence on Capitol Hill that day—which delayed, and came dangerously close to denying, the certification of Joe Biden's election as president—Trump welcomed it. For weeks before, he encouraged a legal strategy of fake electors and promoted false allegations of voter fraud. His plans to remain in office could best be executed if Congress were hindered in performing its constitutional duty. Violence was part of the scheme, because it could buy Trump time to interrupt the proceedings, sow confusion, and perhaps intimidate his noncompliant vice president, Mike Pence, into fleeing the Capitol....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“An Ominous Warning to the E. Jean Carroll Jury.” The Atlantic, May 10, 2023.

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