While Americans Have Been Focused On The COVID-19 Pandemic, DOJ Appeared To Be Suspending Certain Constitutional Rights During National Crisis

Raise your hand if you're surprised.

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Donald Trump’s Department of Justice has been not only trying to dismantle charges against two Russian businesses in a case initiated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller but the DOJ is up to something else that’s equally dubious amid the potentially deadly COVID-19 pandemic. According to Politico, the DOJ had quietly asked Congress to craft legislation that would allow chief judges to indefinitely hold people without trial and suspend other constitutionally-protected rights during the pandemic and other emergencies.

Suspending the Constitution has been tried before — during Lincoln’s time amid the Civil War — but, it never got through the Supreme Court. What’s concerning now, is that Trump’s choices in the Supreme Court don’t exactly make most of us feel OK about this. Thankfully, though, we have a Democratic-led Congress. And, interestingly, Trump is trying to pass himself off recently as a war-time president due to the coronavirus epidemic.

In one of the documents that Politico took a look at, the Department of Justice proposed that Congress grant the attorney general power to ask the chief judge of any district court to pause court proceedings “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

That would be applicable to “any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings.”

The Constitution affords citizens habeas corpus, giving arrestees the right to appear in front of a judge and ask to be released before trial unless a valid reason is given for the individual’s detention.

That’s an alarming move by the DOJ, and Norman Reimer, the executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, called it “terrifying.”

“Not only would it be a violation of that, but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest,’” Reimer said. “So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.”

“That is something that should not happen in a democracy,” he added.

Further, the DOJ also asked Congress to pause the statute of limitations for criminal investigations and civil proceedings during national emergencies, “and for one year following the end of the national emergency,” according to the news outlet.

Trump declared the COVID-19 epidemic a national emergency in all 50 states.

The DOJ is also seeking to change the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in some cases to expand the use of videoconference hearings without the defendants’ consent.

Reimer called that a “terrible road to go down.”

“If it were with the consent of the accused person it would be fine,” Reimer said. “But if it’s not with the consent of the accused person, it’s a terrible road to go down. We have a right to public trials. People have a right to be present in court.”

It sure sounds like Trump is seeking to expand his presidential powers while the country is reeling from a pandemic. In 2019, Trump claimed the Constitution says “I can do whatever I want as President.”

“But I don’t even talk about that,” he added.

Featured image via Political Tribune gallery

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