Trump, GOP Escalate The Assault On Civil Liberties And Core Of Our Democracy
While it appears that Republican overreach in order to give massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and corporations may have saved Medicaid as we know it as well as healthcare for tens of millions of Americans, at least for the time being, Trump and Republicans are continuing the full frontal assault on our civil liberties and the core of our democracy.
Last December, I wrote a post about Jeff Session’s rather expansive view of the power of civil forfeiture. Back then, Sessions declared that the standard of proof the government “should not have a burden of proof higher than in a normal civil case” for civil forfeiture. Of course, in practice, many citizens have had their assets seized without ever being accused of a crime. In fact, rampant abuse of civil forfeiture has caused a number of state governments to pass laws that require an actual criminal conviction before the assets can be forfeited. In addition, President Obama also tried to limit the practice on a federal level, where the law is even more loose. Local police and officials working through a federal program can keep up to 80% of the assets they seize, creating an enormous incentive for abuse.
Now Sessions has decided to rescind Obama’s restrictions and actually encourage state and local officials to make even greater use of civil forfeiture through the federal program. This seems to mean that the federal civil forfeiture rules can be used against citizens who have not been charged or convicted of a crime, even in those states that require a criminal conviction for forfeiture. All that is required now is a determination of “probable cause” which, as we all know, police can find whenever they want to.
How civil forfeiture passes constitutional muster is simply beyond me. The whole process totally disregards the presumption of innocence in its entirety. But, under Trump and Sessions, we will only see more of it.
Over in the Senate, the greatest deliberative body has somehow managed to find at least a small degree of bipartisanship by trying to criminalize free speech and activism against Israel. A group of 47 Senators, 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats, have banded together to propose a bill that would make it a felony for American citizens to support the boycott of Israel, with punishment of up to 20 years in jail and $1 million in fines.
As the ACLU points out, “[t]his bill would impose criminal and civil punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies…Under this bill, however, only a person whose lack of business ties to Israel is politically motivated would be subject to fines and imprisonment — even though there are many other who engage in the very same behavior.” The fact that 14 Democrats in the Senate, including Schumer, Gillibrand, Wyden, Blumenthal, and a number of prominent Democrats in the House, including Schiff, Swalwell, and Lieu, support this bill is an absolute disgrace. Whatever your views on Israel, a bill like this strikes at the heart of free speech and is typical of Trumpian authoritarianism that Democrats should be fighting tooth and nail against.
Finally, of course, there is the constant and continuing assault on voting rights. Today Trump met with his Election Integrity Commission as it begins its quest to keep as many mainly Democratic voters from being able to participate in our democracy while at the same time sowing doubts about the integrity of the electoral process as a whole. The commission’s initial request for voter data that included Social Security numbers and voting history has largely been ignored by the states as unnecessary, a federal intrusion into state control of elections, and an invasion of privacy. But that request is already having its desired effect as nearly 4,000 voters in Colorado have removed their names from the voter rolls for fear that information will be passed on to the federal government. While Kris Kobach, the de-facto head of the commission, stated these removals were probably illegal voters, most complaints from individual voters revolved around privacy issues.
Kobach also made news when he told Katy Tur at MSNBC that “we may never know” if Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote. As Tur and others have pointed out, if there was that much voter fraud occurring that nearly 3 million people voted illegally, then it calls Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory into serious doubt as he won three important states by only around 100,000 votes in total.
As Charlie Pierce points out in an eloquent column today, the Republican assault on our democratic processes really began in earnest when they were able to steal the 2000 election with the help of the Supreme Court. As Justice Stevens wrote in the Bush v. Gore opinion, “What must underlie petitioners’ entire federal assault on the Florida election procedures is an unstated lack of confidence in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges who would make the critical decisions if the vote count were to proceed.” But that’s exactly the viewpoint the Supreme Court endorsed and it gave the green light to Republicans to begin the greatest assault on voting rights in nearly a century. In addition, that ruling also paved the way for Republicans to virtually ignore court rulings on their voting restrictions, resulting in many minority voters in certain states voting in what had been ruled illegally gerrymandered districts in election after election.
I’m pretty certain that the battle to roll back the ACA is not over but it appears that, for now, the resistance has beaten back that effort. That is huge. But the damage the Trump administration and his Republican allies are inflicting in other areas is horrific and largely unstoppable. Civil rights, the environment, voting rights, and a host of other areas of our democracy are under constant assault from this administration. And we need every Democrat fighting those efforts, not joining in for political gain, every step of the way.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on July 20, 2017.