The Volokh Conspiracy

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Politico symposium on the firing of James Comey


WASHINGTON, DC—MARCH20: Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey appears in front of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence at the Longworth House Office Building on Monday March 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Politico has posted a symposium on the ramifications of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and whether it counts as a "constitutional crisis." It includes contributions by a variety of legal scholars. Participants include, Josh Blackman, Sanford Levinson, Sai Prakash, Geoffrey Stone, Cass Sunstein, and others. Here's an excerpt from my own contribution. Unlike the other contributors, I focus on the potential implications for civil liberties, as well as the Trump-Russia investigation:

The ultimate impact of the firing of FBI Director James Comey is yet to be determined. We do not yet know whether and to what extent this action has damaged our constitutional system. The real cause for concern is not so much Comey's departure as his potential successor.

Comey's firing comes at a time when he was investigating President Trump's campaign for possible collusion with Russian intelligence agents. Even some Republican leaders are troubled by that timing. Whether or not that investigation was the cause of Comey's dismissal, Trump may be tempted to appoint a successor who will go easy on the president and his associates….

The potential implications for civil liberties are also significant. During the campaign, Trump showed disdain for freedom of speech, expressed admiration for authoritarian rulers, and threatened to use the powers of government to go after his critics. The FBI wields extensive law enforcement and surveillance authority. Earlier in its history, the agency compiled a sordid record of harassing and intimidating dissenters, most notably Martin Luther King. An FBI director who returns to such tactics would be a serious threat to vital constitutional rights…