The Department of Justice is using the COVID-19 outbreak to put pressure on expanding new powers, including the ability to detain Americans indefinitely without trial, Politically reports.
The department is asking Congress to allow the U.S. Attorney General to request the courts to suspend legal proceedings. These include “any statutes or procedural rules that otherwise affect pre- and post-arrest, pre-trial, pre-trial and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and in all civil litigation and proceedings,” reports Betsy Woodruff Swan, with reference to DOJ documents submitted to Congress.
In other words, the Justice Department could postpone trials, hearings and other procedural steps after arrest. That is a potentially serious violation of the constitutional right to a speedy trial.
Those powers apply “when the court is closed in whole or in part due to a natural disaster, civil disobedience or other emergency,” writes Woodruff Swan, and will remain in effect for one year after the end of the national emergency. . “
The documents show that DOJ has asked Congress to ask the Attorney General to ask the chief justices to postpone all legal proceedings during an emergency, including hearings after arresthttps://t.co/obVXsq8Njg
– Betsy Woodruff Swan (@woodruffbets) March 21, 2020
Perhaps the Justice Department is trying to find out if there are libertarians in a pandemic. The right to see a judge and be released from detention after an arrest – known in legal terms as habeas corpus-is one of the fundamental building blocks of a democratic society, in which the state cannot deprive individuals of their freedom without a fair trial. The times in American history when that right has been suspended or circumvented are some of the darkest. We should not try to repeat them.
“The DOJ proposal is very worrying and would raise a whole host of constitutional concerns,” said Scott Bullock, president and general adviser to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm. “History has shown time and again that governments use a crisis to expand their power and violate essential constitutional principles. And when the alleged emergency is over, the extended powers often become permanent. “
Clark Neily, vice president of criminal justice at the Cato Institute, says the Department of Justice should not be trusted with more extensive powers.
“If history is any indication, it is almost certain that these powers will be misused and DOJ will try to hide these abuses when they occur,” says Neily. “This is simply not an agency that has earned the kind of trust that comes from these requests for more authority and discretion.”
It is also unclear how allowing indefinite detention would help combat the coronavirus outbreak. It seems more likely that the DOJ is learning from members of Congress and the President that the crisis is a useful excuse to ask things it already wanted.
“Congress must answer ‘NO’ loudly” wrote Rep Justin Amash on Twitter.
Congress must answer NO loudly.
“The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress to ask for chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies.” https://t.co/B0TL8y6Sbh
– Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 21, 2020
If you think those powers, once conferred by Congress, would only be used in temporary or emergency situations – well, I have a 2001 authorization to use military force to sell you.