Donald Trump Vs. The Sixth Amendment

Just hours after New York bombing suspect was caught, Trump was already bemoaning how slowly the wheels of justice are turning.



Just hours after the suspected New York City dumpster bomber was caught by police in New Jersey, Donald Trump was already lamenting how slowly the wheels of justice were turning.

At a rally in Florida, Trump bemoaned the fact that America's justice system would include such kid-gloves-treatment as providing Ahmed Khan Rahami with a doctor (to treat the gunshot wound sustained during a shoot-out before his capture), a lawyer and a fair trial to establish whether Rahami is guilty of setting off a bomb that injured 25 people in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City on Saturday night.

Here's what Trump said, courtesy of CBS News' Sopan Deb:

Trump makes it sound like the government is giving Rahami a free weekend trip to the Mar-A-Lago resort, instead of providing him with the basic rights and protections given to all Americans who are charged with a crime.

"And on top of all that, he will be represented by an outstanding lawyer," says Trump, who apparently has inside information about the attorney who will defend Rahami in court (just like had information about Saturday night's explosion before anyone else did).

The Sixth Amendment doesn't make any promises about the caliber of the barrister that one might have, but the right to counsel is not a "sad situation." Along with the rest of the Sixth Amendment—which also enshrines the right to a fair trial, a jury and the chance to face one's accusers—it's one the foundations of a civilized society and a protection against a whole host of governmental abuses.

Trump lashes out like this, I suspect, because he lacks an actual understanding of national security issues (and his no interest in learning about them) and, like his Democratic opponent, doesn't have much regard for the constitutional limits of government in any setting. He also does it because it plays well with many of his supporters, who love strongman rhetoric and only support limits on government power when that power is aimed at them.

That's why he says things like "knock the hell out of them," when asked about his plan to deal with terrorism. Knock the hell out of who, exactly? Islamists in the Middle East? Muslims living in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and St. Cloud, Minnesota? It doesn't matter, of course, because the important thing is that he wants to knock the hell out of someone, and damn the constitutional consequences.

His direct assault on the Sixth Amendment right to a lawyer and a fair trial also contains a sideswipe at the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of a fair trial and due process (not to mention the Fourteenth Amendment's similar promise of equal treatment under law) when he calls for treating the alleged New York bomber as an enemy combatant. Rahami is not a foreign combatant (and he's not a refugee, either). He's a naturalized citizen of the United States, entitled to the same constitutional protections as you, me or Donald J. Trump.

The content of what Trump said is disturbing enough—though not unexpected for anyone who has been following the trajectory of his campaign—but the implications are what really frighten. If he's willing to suspend constitutional protections for suspected terrorists after an attack, it's only a matter of time before those same rules are applied in pursuit of stopping an attack. It starts with surveillance of Muslim communities, but where does it end? Trump's already shown a willingness to run headlong down that slippery slope, telling 60 Minutes in July that he doesn't regard constitutional limits on government power as legitimate if the nation itself is at stake.

Anyone who actually believes in constitutionally limited government likely has been turned off by Trump's attacks on the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Eighth Amendment, Tenth Amendment and 14th Amendment, not to mention his support for the nonexistent Article XII of the U.S. Constitution.

We'll know he's really just playing a game of unconstitutional bingo if he promises to quarter troops in American's homes—in the name of national security, of course.

The bottom line is that Trump likely won't alienate more voters by continuing his assault on the founding document of the country and the ideas that underpin a significant portion of Western Civilization, but that doesn't mean each additional volley deserves to go unnoticed.