One of the requests to Congress would allow the department to petition a judge to indefinitely detain someone during an emergency.
The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the coronavirus spreads through the United States.
Documents reviewed by POLITICO detail the department’s requests to lawmakers on a host of topics, including the statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted. POLITICO also reviewed and previously reported on documents seeking the authority to extend deadlines on merger reviews and prosecutions.
The move has tapped into a broader fear among civil liberties advocates and Donald Trump’s critics — that the president will use a moment of crisis to push for controversial policy changes. Already, he has cited the pandemic as a reason for heightening border restrictions and restricting asylum claims. He has also pushed for further tax cuts as the economy withers, arguing that it would soften the financial blow to Americans. And even without policy changes, Trump has vast emergency powers that he could legally deploy right now to try and slow the coronavirus outbreak.
The DOJ requests — which are unlikely to make it through a Democratic-led House — span several stages of the legal process, from initial arrest to how cases are processed and investigated.
In one of the documents, the department proposed that Congress grant the attorney general power to ask the chief judge of any district court to pause court proceedings “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”
The request raised eyebrows because of its potential implications for habeas corpus –– the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release.
“Not only would it be a violation of that, but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest,’” said Norman L. Reimer, the executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.”
Reimer said the possibility of chief judges suspending all court rules during an emergency without a clear end in sight was deeply disturbing.
“That is something that should not happen in a democracy,” he said.
The department also asked Congress to pause the statute of limitations for criminal investigations and civil proceedings during national emergencies, “and for one year following the end of the national emergency,” according to the draft legislative text.
Trump recently declared the coronavirus crisis a national emergency.
Another controversial request: The department is looking to change the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in some cases to expand the use of videoconference hearings, and to let some of those hearings happen without defendants’ consent, according to the draft legislative text.
“Video teleconferencing may be used to conduct an appearance under this rule,” read a draft of potential new language for Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 5(f), crossing out the phrase “if the defendant consents.”
“Video teleconferencing may be used to arraign a defendant,” read draft text of rule 10(c), again striking out the phrase “if the defendant consents.”
When the owners of Traverse Design + Build purchased this 1971 Airstream Overland International in Boulder City, Nevada, it had seen better days. The trailer’s aluminum hull was oxidized, and its trim needed repair. And the dated interior—with its avocado-green appliances, yellow walls, and dark fake wood—needed a top-to-bottom overhaul.
Based in Sun Valley, Idaho, Traverse Design + Build focuses on custom van and Airstream build-outs with a contemporary aesthetic. But this 27-foot Airstream was their personal project—and they had their work cut out for them.
The dated mechanical systems posed safety issues, the floors were rotten from water damage, and the rusty metal frame was in need of major TLC. “There were electrical modifications that were done to it which were extremely dangerous,” says owner and Traverse Design + Build founder Jodi Rathbun. “We were surprised it never caught on fire, and that no one had been electrocuted.”
Traverse Design + Build reinforced the frame, replumbed the pipes with PEX, and ripped out the floors and replaced them with engineered maple. “We planned and executed every single aspect of the build, the only exception being the installation of the engineered floor,” she says.
Evading a guilty verdict in the impeachment trial isn’t enough for trump; he’s trying to rewrite history.
The Washington Post