One of the many discouraging features of the 2016 election was that both candidates had extremely conservative views regarding civil liberties. Now that Donald Trump has been elected, civil libertarians are preparing for the challenges we are likely to face. Elias Groll has this warning in Foreign Affairs: When Trump Takes Control of the Justice Department, Be Afraid:
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump threatened to sue those who crossed him: the scores of women who accused him of sexual assault, the journalists who wrote critical stories about him, and even the Republican National Committee over how it awarded delegates. He will enter the Oval Office on Jan. 20 as arguably the most litigious president in history.
And now, Trump will have vast influence in shaping the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI — and many of the powerful post-9/11 policies that tested America’s legal system by pitting security concerns against civil liberties.
The Justice Department has long prided itself as a fiercely independent agency, with many career prosecutors outlasting any one presidential administration. But even some of the most controversial DOJ alumni now worry how Trump will pursue his vision of justice.
“He thinks all kinds of crazy things about prosecutions,” said John Yoo, a Berkeley law professor who, while serving at DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2003, helped write legal justifications for aggressive interrogation methods that critics call torture. Those memos have since been rescinded.
“I don’t think he has a very good sense of how our law enforcement system works,” Yoo told Foreign Policy.
During the campaign, Trump distinguished himself by his volatility, his vindictiveness, and a desire to strike back at his enemies, qualities that may have served him well in the rough-and-tumble world of New York real estate.
But critics fear Trump will harness the Justice Department to pursue political prosecutions against enemies and otherwise trample civil rights. He will enter the White House after 15 years of presidents — Democratic and Republican — who have wielded nearly untrammelled executive power to conduct investigations, war, covert action, and surveillance operations.
“We are faced with a situation where Trump is going to inherit extremely broad powers that are subject to no meaningful oversight by the other two breaches,” said Jameel Jaffer, the director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
President-elect Trump, as you assume the nation’s highest office, we urge you to reconsider and change course on certain campaign promises you have made. These include your plan to amass a deportation force to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants; ban the entry of Muslims into our country and aggressively surveil them; punish women for accessing abortion; reauthorize waterboarding and other forms of torture; and change our nation’s libel laws and restrict freedom of expression.
These proposals are not simply un-American and wrong-headed, they are unlawful and unconstitutional. They violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and 14th Amendments. If you do not reverse course and instead endeavor to make these campaign promises a reality, you will have to contend with the full firepower of the ACLU at every step. Our staff of litigators and activists in every state, thousands of volunteers and millions of card-carrying members and supporters are ready to fight against any encroachment on our cherished freedoms and rights.
One thing is certain: We will be eternally vigilant every single day of your presidency. And when you leave the Oval Office, we will do the same with your successor as we have done throughout our nearly 100 years of existence. The Constitution and the rule of law are stronger than any one person, and we will see to that. We will never waver.
Amnesty International wrote that Trump’s Poisonous Rhetoric Must Not Become Government Policy:
Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “President-elect Trump has provoked grave consternation at many points throughout his election campaign, and raised serious concerns about the strength of commitment we can expect to see from the United States towards human rights in the future. He must now put this behind him and both reaffirm and abide by the United States’ obligations on human rights, at home and abroad.”
Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, said: “In the lead up to this week’s election, the United States has witnessed disturbing and, at times, poisonous rhetoric from President-elect Trump and others. This rhetoric cannot and must not become government policy. The xenophobic, sexist and other hateful remarks made by Trump have no place in government.
“President-elect Trump must publicly commit to upholding the human rights of all without discrimination. From internment camps to the use of torture, we have seen disastrous results when those we elect to represent us flout the United States’ obligations to uphold human rights. All who have been elected today – from the executive office to city council – should bear these lessons in mind.”
Freedom of the Press Foundation calls Donald Trump an “enemy of press freedom.”
Donald J. Trump, now the official President elect, is an enemy of press freedom unlike any we have seen in modern presidential history.
In the past 18 months alone, he has threatened to sue newspapers or journalists over a dozen times and said he will attempt to “open up libel laws” as president to make it easier to take newspapers to court. He has attacked and insulted members of the media almost daily and blacklisted countless news outlets over the course of his campaign. He has blamed “freedom of the press” for a terrorist attack in New York and has said the press has “too much protection” under the First Amendment. And much more.
In short, before he even has taken office, he has waged war against the free speech protections guaranteed under the Constitution at a truly historic pace.
We may be in for the biggest press freedom fight of our lives for the next 4 years. The fight may be hard, and it may be long, but we want you to know: Every threat, every lawsuit, every subpoena, every prosecution, we will be there holding Trump accountable and upholding the First Amendment.