Efforts to prosecute the men and women who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, grew more complicated on Friday when the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the law being used in many of the cases against protesters is likely being misapplied.

The law in question prohibits destroying official records in the process of disrupting an official proceeding. The court has now said that if they’re going to cite this policy in a case against protesters, prosecutors must establish that the protesters actually “impaired the availability or integrity” of physical evidence.

The new ruling ensures that the policy is not overinterpreted “into a one-size-fits-all solution to obstruction of justice,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion.

  • Roberts was joined in the majority by four of his fellow conservatives and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote a dissent, which was joined by liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Barrett argued that the majority opinion is illogical, since the protester at the center of the Supreme Court case, Joseph Fischer, is believed to have done almost exactly what the statute in question describes.

Barrett wrote, “The Court does not dispute that Congress’s joint session (on Jan. 6, 2021) qualifies as an ‘official proceeding’; that rioters delayed the proceeding; or even that Fischer’s alleged conduct was part of a successful effort to forcibly halt the certification of the election results. Given these premises, the case that Fischer can be tried for ‘obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding’ seems open and shut. So why does the Court hold otherwise?”

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To be clear, the Supreme Court did not give Fischer a get-out-of-jail-free card on Friday.

His case, as well as cases against others believed to have violated the law when they rioted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, is still active.

But now, it will be reconsidered by the lower courts in light of the majority’s narrower interpretation of the obstruction law.


Friday’s ruling will likely affect an ongoing case against former President Donald Trump who, among other charges, has been accused of obstructing the certification of the 2020 election, as the Deseret News previously reported.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said he was disappointed by the court’s ruling but added that most cases against Jan. 6 rioters will not be affected.

“The vast majority of the more than 1,400 defendants charged for their illegal actions on January 6 will not be affected by this decision. There are no cases in which the Department charged a January 6 defendant only with the offense at issue in Fischer. For the cases affected by today’s decision, the Department will take appropriate steps to comply with the Court’s ruling,” Garland said.

He continued, “We will continue to use all available tools to hold accountable those criminally responsible for the January 6 attack on our democracy.”

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