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 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

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Trump Bans CNN Reporter from White House after Firing Attorney General – Nationwide Protests Today

 

This blog is really, really not a political blog.  I’m a civil rights advocate, not a partisan.

However, the President today took two steps that cross a line from “politics I may not like” into “authoritarian behavior we should not tolerate.”

First, Trump demanded, and obtained, the “resignation” of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  A.G. Sessions was a regressive who struggled to concede that heroin was more dangerous than marijuana, and no one on either side of the aisle would be sad to see him go but for the obvious reason for the firing: Sessions had recused himself from the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election instead of shutting down the investigation as Trump wanted.  This crosses the line because a president must not interfere with law enforcement investigations, especially when his own staffers are the subject of those investigations (several of which have already plead, or been found, guilty of felonies).  I couldn’t care less if you think the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt:” allowing an official to stop investigations into his own people is flatly fascist regardless of whether the investigation turns out to show no misconduct.  If Mr. Trump has nothing to hide, then there is no reason to obstruct this investigation.

Second, this evening Trump revoked the clearance of CNN’s White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, resulting in the veteran reporter being unable to step foot on White House property.  The justification given by the Trump administration is that he “assaulted” a woman during a press conference.  Take 20 seconds to watch this alleged assault:

A White House intern attempted to take a microphone from Acosta, reaching over and grabbing at him, and Acosta’s arm grazed hers in the process.  It is clear that Acosta committed no “assault,” but rather that Trump was upset at Acosta’s line of questioning and thus ordered him removed.  The only assault here was Trump’s upon the press and upon the First Amendment, and for this, and for blatantly lying to the American public about what happened, Trump has also crossed a line.

Today, protests will occur across the country focused on Trump’s attempt to obstruct the Mueller investigation.  You may find your local event here.  Whether you vote Red, Blue, or are colorblind, ask yourself if the above is ok, and if not, step outside and let the White House know.

Trump Nominates Man with Less Courtroom Experience than Me for U.S. District Judge

Meet Matthew Spencer Petersen:

Mr. Petersen heads the Federal Election Commission’s legal team and has some experience with election law.  But in the video above, you’ll see that under questioning, he revealed that:

  1. He’s never tried a case to completion in either state or federal court
  2. He’s never even argued a motion in either state or federal court
  3. He doesn’t even know what certain motions are
  4. He hasn’t read the Federal Rules of Evidence since law school
  5. He hasn’t read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure since… well, he didn’t actually even answer that one

President Trump submitted this man to the Senate for confirmation as a United States District Judge, a lifetime appointment to an extraordinarily powerful position.  A U.S. District Judge has the authority to issue restraining orders against the federal government, decide death penalty cases, and safeguard (or disregard) constitutional rights.

Yet the man that Trump wants to have the job has never been a judge.  He’s almost never been in a courtroom.  This man is utterly unqualified, and to make the point, this year I — as a law student — can answer all of those questions more favorably than he can.  I’m in no way qualified to be a U.S. District Judge, but this appointment is merely a joke that’s not funny.

If you didn’t hear about Mr. Petersen, perhaps it’s because you watch Fox News, which reported the hearing like this:

They entirely left off the part about the unqualified man being destroyed during a confirmation hearing, presenting the day as an epic win for Trump because the Senate confirmed 2 out of 5 of the President’s nominees.  Now that is fake news.

Trump: OK For Police to Rough Up Suspects

Disclaimer: I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. I’m a civil rights advocate.  I will call out each and every person in power who violates, or promotes the violation of, our rights, regardless of whether there is an (R) or a (D) following his or her name.


On this blog, the subject of police abuse comes up regularly.  I’ve personally sued the police for stop-and-frisk, for helping the TSA detain me, for attempting to implement “street body scanners,” and for refusing to issue gun licenses to ordinary citizens.  I’ve called out Texas cops for abusive searches, Miami cops for arresting photographers, London police for thinking they’re a spy agency, New York cops for saying that it’s okay to “get a few punches” in during an arrest, and so forth.

Needless to say, I think that there is a massive issue with policing in this country.  I think that’s something that most of us can more-or-less agree on: it would be nice if we could get rid of bad cops, because they threaten our freedom and embarrass our country.

So when the President of the United States gets up in front of a crowd, on camera, and says that cops should feel free to rough up illegal immigrants as they are arrested, I take exception:

“Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody. Don’t hit their head? I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?'”

~~Donald J. Trump

Now, obviously, few of us feel bad if a murder is injured in his capture, but the problem is that most immigration arrestees are not murderers, and even the ones who are suspected of the same have not been convicted.  We have a court system to ensure that those who commit crimes are punished and those who have not are set free.  It is not up to the police to begin that punishment at the time of arrest.

I’m apparently not the only one who takes exception.

Los Angeles:

Long Island:

Gainsville:

Mr. Trump’s remarks last week were disturbing.  He should take them back.  But we all know he won’t.

U.S. Supreme Court Lifts Part of Travel Ban Injunction, Agrees to Hear Case

Travel Ban ProtestFirst: No, this was not a vindication of the “TRAVEL BAN.”

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued an opinion on the preliminary injunction entered by the 4th and 9th Circuits, as well as the government’s request that they hear the case (a “petition for certiorari” — that word is pronounced “sir-she-uh-ruh-ree,” for those wondering).  The tl;dr:

We grant the petitions for certiorari and grant the stay applications in part.

So, the Court will hear the case in the fall, but what part of the injunction did they put on hold?

The injunctions remain in place only with respect to parties similarly situated to [the plaintiffs].  In practical terms, this means that §2(c) [and §6(b)] may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.

What it boils down to is this: the plaintiffs in this case were all alleging that they were denied access to attend to their family or business in the United States.  When you file a lawsuit, as a general rule, you can only ask the court to help you, not to right a wrong against the public.   Even if your case is a class-action, you can only seek to reach people “similarly situated” to you.

The lower courts enjoined the government from applying these two odious sections of the TRAVEL BAN to anyone.  But, since some people seeking entry have no connections to the U.S., those people are not similarly situated to these plaintiffs, and thus the Supreme Court narrowed the injunction to only those with some connection to U.S. persons or entities.

So, in summary:

  1. If you are accepted to university, are visiting a family member, or have been hired by a company in the U.S., the TRAVEL BAN is still on hold as to you.
  2. If you have no connection to the U.S. at all, you may have to wait a few months if you’re coming from one of the 6 Muslim countries Trump has banned — or get some family or business connections here first (the ruling isn’t quite clear if having “friends” to visit in the U.S. would count as a sufficient connection).
  3. In upholding the injunction as applied to those with a connection to the U.S., the Supreme Court is implying that the plaintiffs in this case are likely to win, because showing “likelihood of success on the merits” is required for any kind of injunction.  Good deal.

Trump to Murderous Philippine President: “You Are a Good Man”

Some commenters on my blog have taken a bit of offense to my regular criticism of Donald Trump, going so far as to call me a “partisan.”  Shocked that after several years of railing against Obama administration policies (not to mention my pro-Second Amendment stance) that all of the sudden I’m now “partisan” for blasting Trump, it was explained to me that while I regularly complained of things that Obama’s agencies did, I rarely called out Obama personally.

I don’t consider myself a member of either political party.  The reason for any disparity in naming Trump personally more than Obama is two-fold:

  1. Obama had a filter and let his administration do their jobs, while Trump is a loud-mouth who puts his personal name on every bad decision his government makes.
  2. Some of the stuff Trump says, and does, is not just disagreeable, but is flatly ignorant.

For an example of the latter, yesterday, it was reported that in a phone call with the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, our President said the following: “I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. … Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation in the Philippines at the moment, this may not sound so bad.  In that case, allow me to summarize their drug policy: President Duterte has directed his citizens to murder drug dealers and addicts in the street.  I mean this literally and with no exaggeration.  Some quotes:

  • “Go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.”
  • “The funeral parlors will be packed. … I’ll supply the dead bodies.”
  • “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

The country’ federal police, at last count, had reported killing 1,959 alleged drug dealers and addicts, and have additionally reported finding the bodies of 3,658 more killed by vigilantes.  That is over 5,000 people killed during this man’s term as president without a trial or any due process whatsoever, for a crime as small as possessing a few grams of meth.

But that’s not all.  Mr. Duterte admitted that, back when he was only a mayor, he used to personally kill people he thought were criminals in the streets.  “And [I would] go around Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also. I was really looking for an encounter so I could kill.”  In a level of hypocrisy fit for a king, that same article discusses Duterte’s addiction to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid many times more powerful than heroin.

Don’t really feel sympathy for druggies?  Fine, here are some other choice quotes:

  • On rape: “I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first.”  (Much like Trump’s response to his “grab her by the pussy” comment, Duterte responded to criticism by saying it is “just how men talk.”)
  • On traffic caused by a visit from the Pope: “Pope, son of a whore, go home. Do not visit us again.”
  • On Hitler: “At least Germany had Hitler.”

Now, after reading the above, let it sink in that our President said to Duterte, “You are a good man.”

Fuck you, Donald Trump.  Mr. Duterte is scum: a self-admitted murderer who does not believe in the rule of law and, quite simply, has respect for no one.  This is not a “good man,” and you are ignorant for saying it.

If that makes me a “partisan,” so be it.

What a President Can Do With an Executive Order — And Why Trump’s Muslim Ban is Illegal

trump_signingOn Sunday I published a post about Trump’s “Muslim ban,” a decision to exclude green card holders and refugees from 7 Muslim countries.  The post was the most shared on this blog ever (over 10,000 shares on Facebook alone!), and attracted a lot of comments.  Some people felt that Trump’s decision, which he made by “executive order,” was perfectly legal.

Is it?

Well, let’s start with what a President does.  We know he runs the executive branch, but what does that mean?  The President’s authority comes from the U.S. Constitution (either directly or from Congress giving him some of their authority), and we can mostly divide what a President does into two categories:

  1. “Foreign stuff” – The President is our chief diplomat, the commander of our military,  and the person with whom other countries must negotiate when they want something from the United States.  These powers are granted in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution.
  2. “Domestic stuff” – Some of this we’re familiar with: things like signing and vetoing laws, appointing U.S. Supreme Court justices, granting pardons, and the like.  These powers are also granted by Article II, Section 2.  Then there are the powers granted by Congress to run more day-to-day affairs.  Through the use of agencies, such as the FCC, FDA, FBI, and hundreds of others, the executive branch accomplishes its work, and the President is the head of those agencies.  And, sometimes Congress gives power specifically to the President rather than to an agency.

With this background, an executive order is a direction that an agency of the government enforce the law in a certain way, or to make a formal use of a power specifically granted to the President by Congress.  Since 1907, the Office of the Federal Register has cataloged and numbered each executive order — the Muslim ban order was #13769.

When it comes to agencies, the President gets to fill in the blanks.  So, a President could order the FBI to step up their enforcement of marijuana laws because Congress allows the FBI to enforce the laws, but didn’t specify how much emphasis should be placed on marijuana.  A President could also order the IRS to send bills to taxpayers only in gold-foil envelopes, because Congress authorized the IRS to send bills, but did not say what the envelopes in which they are sent must look like.

But, the President may not order something contrary to the law, nor fill in the blanks where there are no blanks to fill.  For example, Obama couldn’t order the FCC to confiscate the cell phones of those who text-and-drive, because that doesn’t fit into any grant of power by Congress to the FCC.

So, did the President issue the Muslim ban order pursuant to a legitimate grant of power by Congress?

No.  Here’s why.  Trump could try to defend his actions on the basis of a law passed by Congress numbered as 8 U.S.C. § 1182(f), which states in part: “Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”

At first glance, it does seem like Congress authorized the President to discriminate against anyone as long as he deems it necessary or appropriate.  But, if you scroll back up to the top of the page and read one sentence a little more carefully, you may see Trump’s problem: “The President’s authority comes from the U.S. Constitution (either directly or from Congress giving him some of their authority)…”

Congress cannot give the President authority which it does not have to give.  The U.S. Constitution does grant Congress the authority to deal with immigration, but that authority is restrained by limits set by other parts of the Constitution.  Specifically, the 14th Amendment reads in part: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This is the “Equal Protection Clause” you’ve surely heard of, and the U.S. Supreme Court has broadly interpreted it to prevent the government from discriminating against any race, religion, or national origin (among others), unless the government has an extraordinarily strong reason for doing so and cannot do so in another way which would be less discriminatory.  (It has also applied the 14th Amendment to the federal government even though the text of the law uses the word “states.”)

This is, in my opinion and the opinion of every federal judge to consider the matter so far, where Trump must fail.  Congress does not have the authority to give Trump a power that violates the Equal Protection Clause, and therefore to the extent that 8 U.S.C. § 1182(f) may purport to do so, it is void.  People may argue about whether the government has a compelling reason to discriminate here, but there is little argument that there is not a way to secure our country in a less discriminatory manner.  Trump’s order is, therefore, illegal.

Transcript of Oral Arguments in Muslim Ban Case Shows Department of Justice Entirely Lost on How to Defend; Trump Fires Acting Attorney General

darweesh_transcriptBefore U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly issued a temporary restraining order against
Donald Trump and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol from enforcing a “Muslim ban” — prohibiting travel by green card holders and individuals with refugee status from 7 Muslim-majority countries — a hearing was held in which both attorneys for plaintiff Darweesh and attorneys from the Department of Justice for the government appeared.  Early media reports indicated that the U.S. Attorneys were entirely unprepared and had no defense for Trump’s executive order.  And, yesterday, Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, allegedly after “she defiantly refused to defend his executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries,” according to the New York Times.

I noticed on the docket today (PDF or live version if you have a PACER account) that the transcript of these oral arguments was ready but not available over the Court’s Web site.  I managed to obtain a copy anyway which I’m now publishing for you all.

Darweesh v. DHS – Transcript of Oral Arguments on Motion for TRO, 1/28/2017 (.pdf)

Some highlights:

  1. There were five attorneys from the government there — four from the U.S. Attorney’s office and one from U.S. Customs & Border Patrol.  Not a single one of them, at any point in the 21 pages of transcript, even remotely attempted to argue that Trump’s order was lawful and the plaintiffs could not succeed on the merits.
  2. The test for whether to issue a stay is a balancing of whether: 1) the requesting party is likely to succeed on the merits, 2) the requesting party will suffer irreparable injury, 3) the opposing party will be injured, and 4) the public’s interest will be harmed.  The only one the government even tried to address was irreparable injury, by saying that Darweesh was already released and therefore couldn’t be harmed.  The judge was not interested.
    not_so_moot
  3. But, the 3 attorneys for the plaintiff from the ACLU successfully argued that they would likely meet the requirements to proceed as a class-action, and thus were arguing on behalf of everyone who was detained or threatened with deportation under Trump’s new order — so Darweesh being released didn’t end the case.
  4. The judge made clear that her ruling applied to all affected by Trump’s order.  Thus, if at other airports across the country CBP was still detaining people, they were clearly in violation of the court’s order.  And for those who feel that Trump’s order is totally constitutional, the judge specifically ruled that it was likely that plaintiffs could prove otherwise:
    so_classy
  5. The judge at times was clearly irritated with the government’s lack of response to her questions, and at one point told them that they would not be able to speak any longer.say_no_more_fam

Apparently, Trump is upset that his Acting Attorney General refused to defend his executive order.  But the real question is: What defense could they have plausibly given, especially given that apparently Trump gave the Department of Justice no notice of his plans?

If you want your executive agencies to work with you, they have to be kept in the loop.  Even then, however, it will be a hard sell for any attorney to walk into a courtroom with a straight face and say that the executive order by the guy who said he’d ban Muslims isn’t about banning Muslims, but just happens to be directed at 7 almost-all-Muslim countries.

I don’t envy anyone in the U.S. Attorney’s office’s civil litigation division right now.  They’re not getting paid enough for this shit.


“Jon Corbett is a civil rights advocate known for filing the first lawsuit against the deployment of TSA nude body scanners, as well as defeating the body scanners live in ‘How to Get ANYTHING Through TSA Nude Body Scanners.’  Presently a law student, he continues to advocate for travel and privacy rights.  Twitter: @_JonCorbett, Web:https://professional-troublemaker.com/

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