The Real Threat to the Constitution Is Trump
No amendment is safe.
For a Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump has shown an unprecedented aptitude for alienating Republicans. Mitt Romney isn't voting for him. George W. Bush has declined to endorse him. George H.W. Bush reportedly will vote for Hillary Clinton.
Many people in his party have repudiated Trump's comments on race, immigration, Vladimir Putin and more. But among those who support him, there is one decisive, last-resort justification: Trump would appoint conservative Supreme Court justices who would uphold the Constitution, and Hillary Clinton would not.
What makes them so sure? If there is anything clear from his tweets and speeches, it's that he has no more regard for the Constitution than he does for the creditors he stiffed in his many bankruptcies.
The evidence is abundant for anyone paying attention. He provided more in calling for the use of "stop and frisk" by police in Chicago, citing the "incredible" results the practice yielded in New York.
But the tactic is no longer in use in New York, thanks to a federal court decision ruling it a violation of the Fourth Amendment ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures." The court said New York cops were stopping and searching people "without a legal basis" and doing it in a racially discriminatory way.
Nor does Trump have much use for the Fifth Amendment, which says no one may "be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law." He insists that undocumented immigrants could be deported without a court hearing.
The Supreme Court, however, has long held that the guarantee is not limited to citizens. "All persons within the territory of the United States are entitled to the protection" of due process, it said in 1896.
His promise to inflict torture on alleged terrorists is also at odds with the Fifth Amendment, which protects suspects from being forced to incriminate themselves, as well as the Eighth Amendment, which forbids "cruel and unusual punishments." The United States has signed an international treaty banning torture, and the Constitution states that "all treaties" are "the supreme law of the land."
Trump exhibits a comprehensive contempt for the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion and the press. Trump wants to set up a national database of Muslims and endorsed Ted Cruz's idea of police patrols of Muslim neighborhoods—either of which would violate religious rights by singling out one faith for special burdens.
He also wants to curtail the freedom of the press, an institution he reviles. "We're going to open up those libel laws," Trump vows, "so that when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money." He hopes to use the threat of financial ruin to deter news organizations from candidly assessing him.
The chief protection against this sinister ambition is the Supreme Court, which says the First Amendment protects those who resort "to exaggeration, to vilification … and even to false statement." Libel actions may not be used by public figures to suppress criticism, even if it's inaccurate. Trump's problem, of course, is not criticism that is factually inaccurate but criticism that is factually true.
Trump wants to foil "anchor babies" by repealing birthright citizenship, which is granted by the 14th Amendment. It says, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States."
To focus on specific provisions of the Constitution that offend Trump, however, gives him too much credit. He knows as much about the Constitution as he does about taxidermy. The real problem is his disdain for the notion that it should hinder him from doing whatever he wants.
Some conservatives think they can count on him to place conservatives on the court because he has provided a list of possible nominees that they find acceptable. Why they think he would be any more steadfast on that promise than any other is a mystery. In the end, he would do whatever suits his whim.
The Republican nominee regards the Constitution the way he regards the Bible—as a revered document to invoke when convenient, not one to follow. Conservatives might consider that it would be less threatened by a court made up partly of Clinton appointees than by a presidency occupied entirely by Trump.
© Copyright 2016 by Creators Syndicate Inc.