Nearly all of these cases are being heard by 21 judges in the federal district court in Washington, D.C. They were appointed by presidents from both parties from President Reagan to President Biden.
It’s difficult to compare the rulings of judges because every case is different, but there are common themes in what the judges have been saying to the defendants before them. For one, the judges aren’t looking at these crimes in isolation. The significance of Jan. 6, as an attempt to undermine democracy, is playing a part.
“The defendant was an active participant in a mob assault on our core democratic values and our cherished institution,” Judge John Bates, appointed by President George W. Bush, told Thomas Fee. “I cannot ignore that, cannot pull this misdemeanor out of that context.”
“What happened that day was, in some ways, as serious… an offense as there can be, given that it threatened the peaceful transfer of power from one president to another. The damage that was done on that day was both tangible and intangible,” Judge Timothy Kelly, appointed by President Trump, said while sentencing Tam Dinh Pham. “Without people like you, the collective force of the mob that day would not have been the same.”
The judges have also emphasized that being “sucked into a vortex of misinformation” does not absolve someone of their actions.
“No one was swept away to the Capitol. No one was carried. The rioters were adults,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson, appointed by President Obama, told Russell James Peterson. “This defendant, like hundreds of others, walked there on his own two feet and he bears responsibility for his own actions. There may be others who bear greater responsibility and who also must be held accountable, but this is not their day in court, it is yours.”
Judges are also interested in accountability — and whether or not a defendant has made an authentic expression of remorse. That seems to be in part because some of the judges do worry this could happen again.
“Every day we’re hearing about reports of anti-democratic factions of people plotting violence, the potential threat of violence, in 2024,” Judge Tanya Chutkan, appointed by Obama, said while sentencing Robert Palmer. “It has to be made clear that trying to violently overthrow the government, trying to stop the peaceful transition of power and assaulting law enforcement officers in that effort is going to be met with absolutely certain punishment. Not staying at home. Not watching Netflix. Not doing what you were doing before you got arrested.”
“If people start to get the impression that you can do what happened on Jan. 6, you can associate yourself with that behavior and that there’s no real consequence, then people will say why not do it again,” Judge Reggie Walton, appointed by President George W. Bush, told Mariposa Castro. [Continue reading…]