Politico is reporting that the DOJ wants new emergency powers, such as the ability to hold someone indefinitely without an appearance before a judge (dispensing with habeas corpus). Which should make anyone shudder, pandemic or not. We have seen iffy “declarations of emergency” across the nation over the last week, as some jurisdictions have suspended the Bill of Rights.
“Public officers are the servants and agents of the people, to execute laws which the people have made and within the limits of a constitution which they have established.” Grover Cleveland, 22nd President of the United States
Yes, we are in a pandemic, yes people are being infected, yes there are things we can do to slow the spread. But giving the government- any government- extraordinary powers during an emergency is dangerous to individual liberty. Once that liberty is gone, getting it back is an extremely difficult process.
As we’ve previously mentioned, power hungry individuals tend to hold on to power with a vice grip. In our history, Abraham Lincoln actually suspended the right of habeas corpus in order to allow the arrest of dissenters. It was finally mitigated, but caused major problems in the meantime.
The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the United States…
…The proposal would also grant those top judges broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply 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,” according to draft legislative language the department shared with Congress. In making the case for the change, the DOJ wrote that individual judges can currently pause proceedings during emergencies but that their proposal would make sure all judges in any particular district could handle emergencies “in a consistent manner.”
The request raised eyebrows because of its potential implications for habeas corpus — the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release.
“Not only would it be a violation of that, but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest,’” said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “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.”
I hate to agree with liberals (ever), but in this case they are right to be concerned. While the DOJ request to change certain laws will not likely pass through Congress to grant new emergency powers, that it’s even being brought up at all is an issue. Not being able to appear before a judge after arrest would turn us into another Venezuela or Cuba. Do we really want that to happen in the United States of America?
Featured photo: Photo of President Trump and AG Barr via wikimedia commons