WASHINGTON, DC, March 26, 2020 – The coronavirus crisis is clearly not ending anytime soon, which raises important questions about how it will test the institutions of U.S. democracy, like our justice system, upcoming elections, and even the Constitution itself. In his new column, Alliance for Justice Senior Fellow William Yeomans outlines the many ways President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr, with their belief in absolute executive power, could further challenge the rule of law.
Trump’s inconsistent and incoherent use of power during this pandemic, Yeomans warns, does not bode well for the future. “The only credible explanation for these failures is that he still believes that some magical thinking (and the loss of a few older Americans) will get us past the crisis, and that taking it too seriously will jeopardize his re-election by devaluing the Dow,” he writes. “That kind of thinking is very likely to kill many of us.” It’s a pattern we can also expect the president to continue as matters unfold.
For example, only Congress can change the election date, but Trump and Barr can still continue to pursue voter suppression and interrupt states’ attempts to make voting available by mail or other means to protect people’s safety. “Imagine if Trump leads on election night (a real possibility if blue states more readily embrace voting by mail), but loses that lead days later as mail votes are counted,” Yeomans hypothesizes. The legal challenges over the legitimacy of the election would be unprecedented.
The Department of Justice also bears responsibility for maintaining social order. “Trump has built his presidency on stoking racial and ethnic grievances,” Yeomans notes, as evidenced by his insistence on connecting the virus to its origins in China. If such an approach continues through the pandemic, it could lead to fractures such that “courts and traditional law enforcement can’t keep up.”
There is also the question of whether Congress can continue its oversight of the administration while social distancing. Even if it cannot hold traditional hearings in the short-term, “it must be vigorous in demanding documents and developing procedures for virtual hearings.”
Still, Yeomans holds out hope that “working together, we can overcome our failed national leadership and emerge whole.”
Yeomans Work focuses on the challenges to the justice system in the era of Trump. Bill Yeomans is available for media interviews. During his time at the Department of Justice, he worked on or supervised criminal cases and a full range of civil rights matters, giving him a deep understanding on the institution and role of career attorneys in the federal government. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent the positions of Alliance for Justice. For booking inquiries, contact Zack Ford, Press Secretary, at Zack.Ford@afj.org or at 202-464-7370.