We have made it quite clear that we are not fans U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr. A political sycophant, Barr has sworn an allegiance to serve the personal and political interests of President Donald J. Trump rather than serve his sworn constitutional duties and the legitimate interests of the American people.
The latest politicized move by the attorney general would be laughable for its sophomoric intent if it was not for the serious constitutional threat it poses to the nation.
Barr, in effect, wants to suspend the constitutional rights of criminal defendants during the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the nation. Recent news reports disclosed that the attorney general has asked Congress to draft legislation that would effectively quarantine time-honored, court-pronounced constitutional protections of criminal defendants and others who face court proceedings.
US Attorney General Seeks to Suspend Constitutional Protections for Accused
Barr wants Congressional legislation that would specifically permit chief federal judges to hold criminal defendants without trial and suspend other constitutionally-protected rights during the current COVID-19 pandemic or any other emergency that may arise, according to a March 21, 2020 Politico report by Betsy Woodruff Swan.
More to the point, Barr’s proposed legislation—most of which was prepared under a shield of secrecy—would grant him the “power” to ask any chief federal judge to pause any “court proceedings”—a move that would change the legal landscape on a host of topics, such as asylum and statute of limitations, all of which have been endorsed by Trump in a litany of past racist and xenophobic Twitter rants.
President to Use Crisis for Policy Change
“The move [by Barr],” wrote Ms. Swan, “has tapped into a broader fear among civil liberties advocates and Donald Trump’s critics — that the president will use a moment of crisis to push for controversial policy changes. Already, he has cited the pandemic as a reason for heightening border restrictions and restricting asylum claims. He has also pushed for further tax cuts as the economy withers, arguing it would soften the financial blow to Americans. And even without policy changes, Trump has vast emergency powers that he could deploy right now to try to slow the coronavirus outbreak.”
We agree with the civil libertarians.
This latest move by Barr has nothing to do with an official concern about the workings of the criminal justice system during an emergency. It is another galling attempt by the attorney general to serve the political interests of the president at the expense of our constitution.
Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, was quick to condemn Barr’s power grab.
Attorney General’s Proposed Legislation is “Terrifying”
Reimer told Politico that the attorney general’s proposed legislation is “terrifying” and “not only would it be a violation of [habeas corpus], but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest.’ So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting news powers to the government … that is something that should not happen in a democracy.”
Let us be even clearer about the attorney general.
This is not a move by that would serve the interest of the “government” or protect the orderly administration of criminal justice but rather is a move to give the attorney general power to fulfill the “police-state” desires of a psychologically disturbed president of the United States.
Writing in a March 21, 2020 Rolling Stone report, Peter Wade summed up Barr’s police-state power grab attempt this way:
“[Barr] also asked Congress to amend the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to have defendants appear at a hearing via videoconference instead of in-person, but only with the defendant’s consent. But it’s not just Americans’ rights the DOJ wants to violate. They also asked Congress to pass a law saying that immigrants who test positive for COVID-19 cannot qualify as asylum seekers.
“As coronavirus spreads through the country, activists are calling on politicians in office to release prisoners and immigrants held in detention centers, both of which can be a hotbed of virus activity with so many people in close quarters and limited or non-existent supplies of soap, sanitizer, and protective equipment. Some states have already begun to do so. But with this, the Trump administration is taking steps to hold more people in prisons for an undetermined amount of time — showing their priority is not saving lives but giving themselves more power.”
Unbridled power in the hands of political leaders like Trump and Barr is as great of threat to the long-term national security as any pandemic. Medicine and science can save us from pandemics but nothing may be able to save us if Barr and Trump can successfully suspend the constitution.