The DOJ requests chilling emergency powers that could violate American civil rights

U.S. Attorney General William Barr is asking Congress for the ability to petition a judge to indefinitely detain someone during an emergency like the coronavirus pandemic.

William Barr thegrio
U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report as U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) and U.S. Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed O’Callaghan listen at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has quietly asked Congress for the ability to request that chief judges hold people indefinitely without a trial during emergencies such as the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The request come amid a push by U.S. Attorney General William Barr for broad new powers as the virus spreads throughout the United States, POLITICO reports. Barr is hoping to sidestep due process for Americans through a litany of other requests, including the statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted, the report notes.

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That’s not all. One of the documents even asks Congress to grant the attorney general power to ask chief judges in 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 report notes.

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The changes could lead to a seemingly unending cycle of delays for people locked in the judicial system, opponents argue.

“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 tells POLITICO. “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.”

There is no doubt that people of color would be disproportionately affected by these developments as they face significant discrimination in the criminal justice system, but it is believed that with the Democratic House of Representatives, the requests would be dead on arrival. The requests are just another example of the Trump administration trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to advance its controversial policies, including border restrictions and even further tax cuts for the wealthy, POLITICO says.

Even fellow conservatives took to social media to push back against the proposal. Here are a few examples: