Republicans have highlighted Waters’s comments as having the potential to lead to violence, but they have also faced accusations of hypocrisy over their lack of action over former president Donald Trump’s frequent inflammatory comments, or on members of their own party who have been accused of egging on violence.
The matter entered the courtroom after the jury left to begin its deliberations on Monday afternoon, following three weeks of testimony from dozens of witnesses.
Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson moved for a mistrial, objecting, among other things, to Waters’s statements, which he argued had the effect of “threatening and intimidating the jury.” He added that the “pervasive” media coverage that the trial has received also could have influenced the 12 jurors — and two alternates — who will decide whether Chauvin is guilty of Floyd’s death.
Cahill conceded that Waters “may have given” the defense grounds “on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.”
He saved his harshest words for elected officials he said were speaking about the case “in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch.”
“I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so in a respectful and in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution, to respect a coequal branch of government,” he said.
“Their failure to do so, I think, is abhorrent.”
However unfortunate Cahill found the remarks, he said it did not “prejudice this jury,” adding that one congresswoman’s opinion “really doesn’t matter a whole lot anyway.” He denied the defense’s motion for a mistrial.
According to civil rights attorney David Henderson, the defense has long argued that outside forces are influencing the jury and the verdict.
“But Cahill shut it down because in his view there will be outside forces and coverage of the trial and that there is no way to avoid it,” Henderson said. “And that there is no clear indication how it would improperly influence the jury’s deliberation.”
He added that Cahill’s comment about the appeal was “blurted out” more as frustration toward Waters and politicians.
Henderson said that if Chauvin is convicted, the defense will probably appeal the verdict on several grounds, one of them being Cahill’s refusal to grant a mistrial based on Waters’s comments.
In that case, he said, an appellate court would review Cahill’s decision and would probably deny the claim based on what is called an “abuse of discretion,” meaning that it would defer to Cahill, based on the assumption that judges are in a better position to make decisions and have more knowledge about the case.
It is then unlikely that the trial would be overturned, Henderson added.
Waters did not immediately respond for a request for comment, but the congresswoman told CNN that her reference to confrontation “was meant in the context of the civil rights movement’s nonviolent history,” claiming that “the whole civil rights movement is confrontation.”
When pressed by reporters on the judge’s comments that her remarks could be grounds for appeal, she said, “Oh no, no, they didn’t,” CNN reported.
Outside the legal implications on the case, Waters’s remarks prompted reactions from both political parties.
On Monday, as Republicans highlighted Waters’s comments as having the potential to lead to violence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) defended the congresswoman, arguing she should not apologize for her comments as she was not inciting violence, but rather “talking about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement,” Pelosi said.
“I myself think we should take our lead from the George Floyd family. They’ve handled this with great dignity, and no ambiguity or lack of — misinterpretation by the other side,” she said.
“As outraged as we are by his death, let us be prayerful that the truth will prevail and will honor George Floyd’s memory,” Pelosi said in an earlier statement marking the closing arguments in the trial.
Republicans have been critical of past comments from Waters, including when she urged people to confront Trump administration officials when they were spotted in public.
“If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd, and you push back on them,” she said in 2018.
Waters had responded by saying she was encouraging peaceful protests and not violence.