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Supreme Court Skeptical of Trump Too Small: Novel Claim or Unlawful Speech?

The Supreme Court is showing a degree of skepticism over a much talked-about claim by a team of lawyers representing President Donald Trump. The lawsuit was brought by Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and any potential links or coordination with the Trump campaign, in an effort to seek damages from Trump for statements he made about former attorney general Jeff Sessions that the court has deemed false and defamatory.

At a recent hearing, the Supreme Court heard arguments from the lawyers representing President Trump that the statement in question should not be considered defamatory because it was too “small” for the public to consider it damaging. The issue at hand is whether the court should consider the statement as an honest criticism of Sessions or unseemly political rhetoric.

Justice Stephen Breyer was particularly critical of Trump’s attorney’s “too small” argument, noting that such a statement “could always be heard in the context of other things that the president might have said or done… [a statement] doesn’t have to be large and important” for it to do harm.

Many of Trump’s aides and associates have long accused the president of crossing a line with many of his comments, and Breyer’s line of inquiry during the hearing suggests that he is taking these claims seriously. While the court has yet to issue a ruling on the matter, the Supreme Court’s skepticism of Trump’s lawyers’ “too small” argument suggests that the president’s rhetoric could have real legal consequences for him.

The case before the Supreme Court has broader implications for the future of civil defamation cases involving public figures. If the court were to hold Trump accountable for the statement in question, it could set a precedent for public figures to be held responsible even for seemingly minor and innocuous statements.

Regardless of the court’s ultimate ruling, it is clear that the president’s language will continue to be scrutinized, and that any public figures making statements deemed false and potentially damaging should do so with caution.

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