I am a notorious news junky who prides himself on keeping abreast of news and issues around the world, particularly stories dealing with free speech and human rights. It was therefore with some shame that I listened to presentations yesterday at the ABA’s program on the horrific treatment of Myanmar’s Muslims. I was asked to moderate a panel on Rohingya by the Hon. Delissa A. Ridgway, Judge of the United States Court of International Trade, who remains one of the most influential figures globally in bringing together legal, political, and academic figures to discuss pressing problems in our world. Judge Ridgway is not just a friend but an inspiration for her tireless work for the rule of law around the world. You do not say no to Delissa Ridgway if you want to have any shot at the afterlife. However, I was not prepared for the heart wrenching account of the killings, rapes, and beatings of Muslims by extremist Buddhists in Myanmar. It is an on-going crime against humanity being committed on a daily basis in plain sight. The panel entitled “While the World Stands Idly By: Myanmar and the Threat of 21st Century Genocide” met at the Capital Hilton and was sponsored by the ABA Section on International Law. Below is a videotape on their worsening conditions in government camps.
I recently posted a blog column on the troubling image of President Donald Trump calling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his success in securing what are viewed as near dictatorial powers in a recent referendum. Erdogan did not waste any time in using the powers. Turkish police have arrested 1,000 people suspected of being supporters of Erdogan’s main opponent, US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Below is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the investigation of former Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill), who attracted notoriety for his use of a Downton Abbey motif for the decoration of his office. Obviously a preference for haughty interiors should not be enough to generate a massive criminal investigation. However, the prosecutor in this case has pursued Schock with utter abandon, including trampling over long-established protections accorded to Congress. Regardless of the merits of the fraud allegations against Schock, the investigation raises troubling questions of constitutional law and Congress should hold hearings into the violation of Article I.
Below is my column in USA Today on the concern over arguments being advanced in the dozens of personal cases pending against President Donald Trump across the country. As someone who acquired his wealth in the New York real estate market, Trump has been a frequent litigant and is someone who is not deterred by threats of litigation. Indeed, in that market, litigation is treated as an extension of the business and often used in leverage or delay tactics. As President, Trump cannot maintain the same approach to the courts if he has any concern over the position of his office. Much of the privileges surrounding the presidency are not expressly stated in the Constitution. They are, therefore, vulnerable to the curtailment of negative rulings. For that reason, most presidents have avoided court tests and invoke privileges and immunities cautiously. Yet, no president has ever had this massive number of private lawsuits pending upon taking office. With various private lawyers asserting defenses, it raises the danger of unintended and uncoordinated presidential claims being made by largely unknown lawyers. It is like creating constitutional law on contingency or hourly contacts. Private counsel seeks to win these civil cases and are likely less concerned (and certainly less equipped) in dealing with the long-term implications of privilege or immunity arguments. Trump needs to carefully define the scope of advocacy for his local counsel to avoid the first contingency presidency.
Here is the column.
We have been discussing how the left has fallen out of love with free speech and how free speech is now being treated not as the defining right of liberty but the very threat to liberty. Indeed, the most existential threats to free speech around the world are now coming from the left, which has embraced speech codes and the criminalization of speech with a passion. There are exceptions like Bernie Sanders who recently declared that Ann Coulter should be allowed to speak at Berkeley — a position that I obviously have shared on this blog. However, that principled position was countered by the most common response of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean who declared that hate speech is not protected by the Constitution. He is obviously wrong but his inclination — even eagerness — to limit free speech is now a mainstream idea among liberals who once were the champions of this defining right. Notably, Dean has shown increasing intolerance in other areas. He recently denounced a member of Congress after she simply asked for evidence to support the culpability of the Syrian regime in the recent chemical attack.
We have been discussing the erosion of free speech on our campuses across the country through speech codes and increasingly violent protests. Conservative speakers are now routined denied the opportunity to speak on campuses by university officials who cite security concerns or by mob action preventing events from occurring. The latest example is Ann Coulter whose speech was cancelled at the last minute by the university even though she agreed to additional conditions set by officials. Coulter however pledges to show up to speak regardless of the decision. That could produce a confrontation with the university in its continued failure to protect free speech on its campus.
We previously discussed the controversy over a painting by a constituent of Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay that depicted police as pigs in Ferguson, Missouri. As we discussed, the House had a right to remove the art and eventually did precisely that. However, before that decision from the House, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Cal.) took down the painting. Clay called for criminal charges. When the painting was rehung, another Republican member removed it. At the time, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said “We may just have to kick somebody’s ass and stop them. Then the architect stepped in and barred the hanging of the picture. A lawsuit challenged the actions of the House of Representatives and I expressed my great skepticism over the merits of such a case. It appears that U.S. District Judge John D. Bates agrees with that assessment. In a ruling yesterday, Bates rejected the claim that the Architect’s actions were unlawful in removing the painting by David Pulphus, a student artist from Missouri. Pulphus joined Rep. William Clay, in the legal challenge.