On Saturday, Politico reported that Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department is seeking to give President Donald Trump vast new detention powers in response to the national coronavirus emergency.
“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 coronavirus spreads through the United States,” reported Betsy Woodruff Swan. “Documents reviewed by POLITICO detail the department’s requests to lawmakers on a host of topics, including the statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted. POLITICO also reviewed and previously reported on documents seeking the authority to extend deadlines on merger reviews and prosecutions.”
“The move 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,” continued Swan. “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 that it would soften the financial blow to Americans. And even without policy changes, Trump has vast emergency powers that he could legally deploy right now to try and slow the coronavirus outbreak.”
Many of these proposed powers would upend the U.S. legal system.
“In one of the documents, the department 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,'” wrote Swan. “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.'”
None of these powers are likely to be enacted, as it would require approval from the Democratic-controlled House. But the documents shine a further light on how DOJ officials under Trump view executive power — and their vision for dismantling civil liberties.
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