The Westfall Act: Protecting Illegal Federal Actions
Some laws are written to ensure federal leaders are protected from any lawsuits brought against them—even by their employees. Those laws effectively render federal leaders above the law. One such law is referred to as the Westfall Act.
The Westfall Act, also known as the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act, prohibits federal employees from being sued for claims arising under state tort law if they were acting within the scope of their employment. If a lawsuit is filed against a federal employee, regardless of the state in which the lawsuit is filed, the presiding Judge will entertain a motion from a federal Attorney to have the jurisdiction of the case changed from state court to federal court. The motion is granted once the federal Attorney informs the Judge that the United States is replacing the defendant federal employee. That takes jurisdiction to preside over the case away from the current Judge. A federal court and Judge are added as replacements.
Federal law stipulates that certain legal actions, such as defamation lawsuits, cannot be properly filed against the United States. Therefore, any of those improperly filed legal actions are summarily dismissed following a federal Attorney’s motion. The jurisdiction-shifting escape hatch tactic is always successful and the federal employee, including a President, is freed from the lawsuit.
The President of the United States became a defendant in a recently filed rape defamation lawsuit. A woman claimed President Trump defamed her character when he responded to her rape allegation against him by saying she was a liar. The woman claimed to be able to prove the rape took place and subsequently substantiate her defamation allegation. Regardless of any proof she has, because of the Westfall Act and the jurisdiction switching tactic, her defamation lawsuit will likely be dismissed. Once the Attorney General’s office takes over the case and substitutes the United States for Donald Trump, the law protecting the United States from defamation lawsuits will lead to a dismissal of the woman’s lawsuit.
Many people questioned why Attorney General Barr stepped-in as the President’s Attorney in the defamation lawsuit. Some questioned whether or not the move was illegal. Because the allegation against the President involved actions he allegedly took against the woman while he was in office—serving as a federal employee, the Attorney General’s action did not violate any laws and will free the President from the lawsuit.
What type of congressman would introduce a bill like the Westfall Act? How did such a bill become law? Those answers are obvious and easy in my view. Those congressmen and congresswomen knew they might need an escape hatch one day. Federal leaders, the President in this case, use their positions of power as well as legal escape hatches like the Westfall Act as weapons against their employees and constituents. While some might view the development and use of the Westfall Act as tactically sound, I view it as fratricidal and unbecoming of federal employees.