Appeals court rejects Meadows’ bid to move Fulton case

Ruling a win for DA Willis; Meadows likely to appeal
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows walks out of the Richard B. Russell Federal Courthouse after his hearing to move the Georgia Rico case to Federal Court on August 28, 2023 in Atlanta. (Michael Blackshire/

Credit: Michael Blackshire

Credit: Michael Blackshire

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows walks out of the Richard B. Russell Federal Courthouse after his hearing to move the Georgia Rico case to Federal Court on August 28, 2023 in Atlanta. (Michael Blackshire/

A federal appeals court on Monday rejected an attempt from onetime White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to move the Fulton County racketeering case against him to federal court, ruling that he has no right to do so as a former federal official.

In an unanimous opinion released just three days after it heard oral arguments, a three-judge panel on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stated that “the events giving rise to this criminal action were not related to Meadows’ official duties” as the president’s top aide and thus the case should stay in Fulton Superior Court.

“Simply put, whatever the precise contours of Meadows’s official authority, that authority did not extend to an alleged conspiracy to overturn valid election results,” Chief Judge William Pryor wrote in the majority opinion. He was joined by Judges Robin Rosenbaum and Nancy Abudu.

For Meadows, the opinion brought a double dose of bad news. It noted that even if the removal statute did apply to former federal officials, Meadows still loses because the conduct under which he is charged was not part of his duties as chief of staff.

The opinion said the underlying act charged against Meadows in the RICO charge “was his alleged association“ with the conspiracy to overturn the presidential election.” And his official duties “did not include superintending state election procedures or electioneering on behalf of the Trump campaign.”

Moreover, Pryor wrote, “we conclude that Meadows’s association with the alleged conspiracy was not related to his office of chief of staff.

The 11th Circuit’s 47-page decision upholds a ruling from U.S. District Judge Steve Jones. After an evidentiary hearing in which Meadows took the stand, Jones said Meadows was not acting in his federal capacity when he took action in Georgia following the 2020 election.

Meadows’ attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Meadows is expected to appeal the ruling. But because Pryor is one of the court’s most conservative jurists and one of its intellectual leaders, that may not bode well for the former White House chief of staff.

A spokesman for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis declined to comment.

The lightning-quick ruling is a major victory for Willis, who has fought with Meadows and four other defendants to keep the case in Fulton Superior Court. She is hoping to try the case’s remaining 15 defendants together next summer.

The 190-year-old statute that allows federal officials to try and transfer their state prosecutions to federal court “applies to only current officers,” Pryor wrote. “It is silent on the removal of a prosecution commenced against a former officer of the United States.”

This led Rosenbaum, in a concurring opinion, to ask Congress to promptly amend the law so that it extends to former officials.

She posed a hypothetical of a former president and his or her cabinet members being indicted in 16 states where their policies were unpopular and “simply for carrying out their constitutionally authorized duties.” It’s likely they would be treated fairly in the courts of those states, but “given the local sentiment that led to the indictments in this hypothetical scenario, it’s also possible they would not.”

She added, “This nightmare scenario keeps me up at night. In my view, not extending the federal-officer removal statute to former officers for prosecutions based on their official actions during their tenure is bad policy, and it represents a potential threat to our republic’s stability.”

In August, Meadows was charged with two felonies: RICO and soliciting Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to violate his oath of office during the infamous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call with Trump. During the call, the then-president asked the secretary to “find” him 11,780 votes, enough to overturn Georgia’s results.

Also, Pryor wrote, “the ordinary meaning of ‘officer’ does not include ‘former officer.’”

The court rejected arguments from Meadows’ lawyers that because another section of the statute refers to former officers, it should be read in conjunction with the section that refers only to current officers.

”Congress has had ample opportunity to modify the discrepancy … but it has not done so,” Pryor wrote.