The Department of Justice is “begging” for the ability to use novel “emergency powers” while the nation goes into lockdown over coronavirus.
Politico reports that the DOJ “has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the coronavirus spreads through the United States,” and that lawmakers are considering a hosts of requests regarding “statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted.”
Last week, in a separate report, Politico noted that the DOJ was already looking for timeline extensions for specific procedures, including merger investigations, and had drafted a proposal for the White House. “The proposal — which the agency hopes to have included in the next round of pandemic legislation — would let the DOJ and its sister agency, the FTC, add 15 days onto merger timelines during emergencies, such as disease outbreaks, natural disasters or government shutdowns,” the outlet said.
The Trump Administration has already used the coronavirus pandemic to extend hearing times on asylum cases and, as of Friday, will not be detaining illegal immigrants who jump the border between official ports of entry. Instead, illegal immigrants will be immediately deported back to their nation of origin. The border between the United States and Mexico and the border between the United States and Canada are also closed to all but official business, some commerce, and legal residents.
The DOJ, in this case, though, intends to use coronavirus to make sweeping, perhaps long-term changes to the judicial system, particularly governing how the courts operate when there are exigent circumstances, like a public health crisis.
“In one of the documents,” Politico reports, “the department proposed that Congress grant the attorney general power to ask the chief judge of 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 proposal would also grant those top judges broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies,” Politico continued. “It would apply to ‘any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings.’”
Individual judges are already able to pause proceedings, as the document points out. The DOJ is asking that one overarching entity be allowed to make a decision for multiple courts.
Civil liberties activists say the measure is one step towards suspending Constitutional guarantees of habeus corpus, which require authorities to bring defendants before a judge within a set amount of time to hear the charges against them. Instead, if these rights are suspended, defendants could spend days, weeks, or even month in jail before being appraised of their rights or face trial.
The DOJ is also asking Congress to extend the statue of limitations for prosecution of some crimes for an additional year after an emergency has passed, and to allow more hearings to take place via videoconference.
Author: Emily Zanotti