When the American Civil Liberties Union goes to bat for Donald Trump, it’s a red flag. The ACLU generally fights for far-left causes.
But the ACLU always has championed the rights of the accused. This time, the accused is Trump.
The ACLU is protesting a gag order imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan on Oct. 17 to silence Trump, at the request of federal prosecutor Jack Smith. Trump has called Smith a “thug.”
Chutkan’s order bars Trump from making any statements “targeting” Smith, the witnesses in the case or the judge herself. Trump’s lawyers appealed. Chutkan paused the gag order for several days but reinstated it on Sunday.
The ACLU is backing Trump’s right to speak.
Whether you like Trump or hate him, watch this battle. If prosecutors can silence a former president, think what they could do to you.
The ACLU argues the gag order violates Trump’s First Amendment rights and the public’s right to hear Trump’s views so they can decide “whether he deserves to be elected again.”
History and the Bill of Rights are on Trump’s side.
In 1987, a trial court attempted to gag Rep. Harold Ford, on trial for selling influence. An appeals court struck down the gag order.
That appeals court ruled that “the defendant, a Democrat, a black congressman who represents a largely black constituency in Memphis, is entitled to attack the alleged political motives of the Republican administration which he claims is persecuting him because of his political views and his race.” The judges added “he has the right to express his outrage.”
So does Trump. The battle over Trump’s gag order is a mirror image of the Ford case.
In 1999, another federal appeals court suspended a gag against Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown, who was facing criminal charges. The court reasoned that silencing Brown would deprive him of the right to defend himself to the electorate as he ran for reelection.
On Monday, when Chutkan reinstated her gag order, she declared that “the First Amendment rights of participants in criminal proceedings must yield, when necessary, to the orderly administration of justice.”
Sorry, Judge. Not in America. The Bill of Rights was written to protect defendants, not the government or the “orderly administration of justice.”
The Sixth Amendment lists the rights that belong to the “accused.” Only the accused. When Chutkan says she’s defending the rights of government, Americans should be fearful.
Chutkan defends her gag order by saying the First Amendment doesn’t permit Trump “to launch a pretrial smear campaign” against the people prosecuting him. “No other defendant would be allowed to do so.”
Untrue. Chutkan needs a refresher course on the history of the Bill of Rights.
First-year law students study John Peter Zenger, a New York printer jailed and hauled into court in 1735, long before the American Revolution, for denouncing the colony’s royal governor. While Zenger sat in jail, his wife heroically kept the presses running. At trial, the jury ignored the judge’s instructions and refused to convict Zenger — making him an early hero of the resistance to government tyranny.
Four decades later, in 1787, as the Framers wrote the U.S. Constitution, they invoked Zenger’s trial, calling it “the germ of American freedom.”
Fast forward to the present. Trump is also on trial in New York, where Judge Arthur Engoron has imposed a gag order barring Trump from denouncing members of the court. On Wednesday, the judge slapped Trump with a $10,000 fine for allegedly criticizing Engoron’s clerk.
Engoron said, “I don’t think that it is impinging on someone’s First Amendment rights to protect my staff.”
Wrong. Horribly wrong. The First Amendment is not designed to shield government officials from criticism.
The heavy-handed judges presiding over the Trump trials are turning him into a poster boy for freedom of speech and the rights of the accused.
Kudos to the ACLU for separating politics from principles and opposing the gag orders. Every American, including Trump, is guaranteed freedom to speak out against government.
As Trump says, “They’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you, and I’m just in the way.”
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. Follow her on Twitter @Betsy_McCaughey. To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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