Senators and legal experts sound the alarm over Trump’s use of emergency powers: report

Senators and legal experts sound the alarm over Trump’s use of emergency powers: report
U.S. Depart of Agriculture (USDA) Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett hosts a conversation on opioid misuse in rural Maine with Senator Angus King, Jr. (SEEN), and Congressman Bruce Poliquin at the The Gracie Theatre, on the Husson University campus, in Bangor, Maine on July 9, 2018. Panelists also include Advocate and Person in Long-Term Recovery Courtney Allen, Maine Center for Disease Control Program Manager Christine Theriault, LMSW, CPS; District 147 Representative Harold “Trey” L. Stewart III, University of Maine Center on Aging Director Lenard Kaye, Muskie School of Public Service Maine Rural Health Research Center Senior Research Associate John Gale, Milo Town Manager Damien Pickel, The Voice of Maine Radio Personality Ric Tyler, Penobscot Community Health Care Senior Expert Dr. Trip Gardner, Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, Husson University School of Pharmacy Associate Professor Stephanie Nichols, PharmD, BCPS, BCPP, Health Resources Service Administration Deputy Regional Administrator Captain Christopher Bersani, Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Mental Health Services and Office of Substance Abuse Director Sheldon Wheeler, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, Wellspring/BARN Clinical Director Bruce Campbell, and Shepherd's Godparent Home Director Barbara Ford. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Although conservatives and libertarians have often argued in favor of “states’ rights” over the years, President Donald Trump made a very different type of assertion when, on April 13, he claimed that he had “total” authority over governors enforcing stay-at-home orders in their states. Trump has since walked that assertion back, urging governors to reopen their states sooner rather than later but acknowledging that they have a right to determine their own coronavirus responses. However, the very fact that Trump even made his “total” authority claim in the first place is troubling, and Associated Press journalist Deb Riechmann reports that a group of senators has been examining the president’s emergency powers declarations.

According to Riechmann, ten senators (mostly Democrats) have “asked to see this administration’s Presidential Emergency Action Documents, or PEADs” — which, she notes, “don’t give a president authority beyond what’s in the Constitution” but “outline what powers a president believes that the Constitution gives him to deal with national emergencies.”

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent, told AP, “Somebody needs to look at these things. This is a case where the president can declare an emergency and then say, ‘Because there’s an emergency, I can do this, this and this.’”

According to King, “The concern is that there could be actions taken that would violate individual rights under the Constitution” — for example, unreasonable search and seizure and limiting due process.

The Maine senator also told AP, “I’m merely speculating. It may be that we get these documents, and there’s nothing untoward in their checks and balances —  and everything is above board and reasonable.”

One of Trump’s most infamous emergency declarations came in 2019, when he declared that a national emergency existed along the U.S./Mexico border and used that declaration to move $3.6 billion in taxpayer funds from military construction projects to his border wall project. Many of the Trump’s critics, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, criticized him for failing to respect the powers of Congress when he made that declaration, as Congress had specified that the $3.6 billion was to be used for military construction projects — not the president’s vanity project.

Joshua Geltzer, a visiting law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., told AP, “I worry about other things he might call an emergency. I think around the election itself in November — that’s where there seems to be a lot of potential for mischief with this president.”

Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, also expressed concerns about Trump and emergency powers — telling AP, “You can imagine a situation where (Trump) engineers a crisis that leads to domestic violence, which then becomes a pretext for martial law."

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