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Trump’s impeachment trial sets a troubling precedent

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Trump’s impeachment trial sets a troubling precedent

You may have gotten a traffic ticket and gone to traffic court, but you certainty have never been impeached, or tried by the Senate. There is a reason for that: The impeachment process is reserved by the Constitution to sitting officeholders. By seeking to apply this unique process to former President Donald Trump, who holds no government office, Congress is transgressing constitutional norms even as it claims to defend them. If Trump is suspected of inciting an insurrection — a serious crime — the place to prosecute him for it is a federal criminal court, with all the procedural guarantees every defendant deserves. 

The Constitution provides that the impeachment process is to be used to remove “all Civil officers of the United States” — that is, people holding a government position. Yet in the case of Trump, the House is reading the Constitution as if it said the process applies to “all Civil officers of the United States, and people who aren’t civil officers, but once were.” Exactly what it does not say. 

The Constitution guarantees everyone charged with a crime the right to a jury trial. The impeachment process is a very narrow exception, where trial is by the Senate. That is because the impeachment has a very particular punishment: the removal of the official from office. A criminal court can’t impose such a political punishment, and thus it is reserved to Congress. Given that removal is the primary punishment in a case of impeachment, applying the process to citizens not holding an office they can be removed from makes no sense. 

Supporters of prosecuting Trump point out that on top of removal, the Constitution also allows disqualification from future office as a punishment — exactly the reason they are prosecuting Trump. They argue that by including the penalty of disqualification, the Constitution authorizes the process to be used against anyone who could be disqualified from future office — which is everyone. The argument is self-contradictory: One could even more easily argue that the process can only be used when the primary remedy, removal from office, applies. 

It is important to emphasize what a massive departure from longstanding constitutional practice this week’s proceedings will be. In the entire 240-year history of the US Constitution, the House has only impeached one ex-official (he had resigned moments before), and questions about the constitutionality helped lead the Senate to acquit him. Congress did not even pursue the reviled Nixon when he entered private life, because it was understood he could no longer be impeached. 

In the precedent being established against Trump, anyone who held any kind of political appointment in any administration, or even retired military officers, could be impeached decades later. Indeed, in Trump’s case, it is not like the accusations are based on anything that emerged after he left office. Nor is it a case where the accused dragged out proceedings until after his term, or resigned to avoid the trial. Quite the contrary, the House specifically waited to send an article of impeachment to the Senate until after Trump left office. 

One of the great American traditions going back to George Washington is that a former president returns to private life and becomes a regular private citizen in all legal respects. 

Whether Trump can be prosecuted without a jury, by a political body, is not a question about former presidents. It is a question about the rights Americans in general. 

Eugene Kontorovich teaches constitutional law at George Mason University Scalia Law School in Arlington. Va. 

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Opinion

Joe Biden is even more of a ‘master of disaster’ than Jimmy Carter

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Joe Biden is even more of a 'master of disaster' than Jimmy Carter

President Joe Biden entered office poised to oversee a record recovery and a return to the booming economy and all-round stability of pre-pandemic life. Instead, he’s turned out to be a master of disaster, with self-inflicted crises across the board threatening to set America back to the 1970s — with that era’s infamous “stagflation” as well as a foreign policy in flames.

When Biden took office in January, the nation was on the mend from a post-holiday surge in COVID cases and seeing a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines produced at unprecedented speed and nearly a million jabs a day going into American arms. With the unemployment rate — 3.5 percent — at a five-decade low in February 2020, Biden inherited a strong pre-pandemic economy that was already bouncing back strong as the pandemic and lockdowns began to end.

President Donald Trump had also done him a favor at the southern border, getting what was once a real crisis under control by prioritizing strong border security, negotiating a Remain in Mexico policy that saw asylum-seekers await the conclusion of their cases outside the country and instituting a public-health order that kept migrants out while we focused on eradicating the virus.

Biden even looked set to negotiate more peace deals in the Middle East, building on Trump’s Abraham Accords, the first deals in decades between Arab nations and Israel.

But barely four months into his presidency, it’s disaster after disaster as Biden wastes every opportunity his predecessor left him.

US consumer confidence fell unexpectedly this month as rising prices, a hiring slowdown and energy uncertainty hit hard. On Friday, the University of Michigan said its Index of Consumer Sentiment declined to 82.8, from 88.3 in April. Economists had predicted it would rise to 90.4.

It wasn’t the first disappointment for prognosticators this month. Economists expected the country to tack on 1 million jobs in April after seeing gains of 770,000 in March. Instead, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported just 266,000, as the unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent.

And then it announced that consumer prices rose 4.2 percent year-over-year in April — far worse than economists had predicted. It was the largest such jump since September 2008, when the financial crisis was at its height. Oh, and core inflation rose 0.8 percent from March to April, the biggest rise in nearly four decades.

You can thank Biden’s focus on expanding government at the expense of everyone else. Democrats (alone) passed his $1.9 trillion COVID “relief” bill — which had little to do with either — in March, as things were finally picking up. Throwing money into the economy without much consideration of its necessity directly led to the inflation we’re seeing now, with the money supply up by 25 percent over last year.

That “relief” bill also extended the $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement to Sept. 6, meaning nearly half of people getting checks make more by staying home than going back to work. Employers coast to coast have cited it as a reason they’re having trouble hiring.

Biden claims the jobs numbers show his two other big proposals ($5 trillion total for “infrastructure” and “families”) are desperately needed, but that “medicine” would mean more disasters, not least because they’re (partly) paid for via huge tax hikes on investments and business.

He’s also adding fear and gloom now, by refusing to rule out making his planned tax hikes retroactive.

Gas prices were already on the rise under Biden before the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline led to long lines at the pump. It now costs $1.05 more per gallon than it did a year ago. With Biden closing the Keystone XL Pipeline on his first day in office and generally vowing to wage war on all fossil fuels, it’s no wonder there’s uncertainty and higher prices.

Nowhere is the self-inflicted nature of Biden’s disasters more plain than on the border. He put a moratorium on deportations his first day in office and ended the Remain in Mexico program as well as all construction on any border barriers. Border apprehensions were at a 20-year high last month, but deportations were at a record monthly low.

And the feds have a record number of unaccompanied minors in custody — around 22,000 — because Biden ordered the public-health rule keeping migrants out to be lifted for solo kids.

Meanwhile, Hamas and its allies have gone on the attack against Israel, leaving it no choice but to defend itself. As Jonathan Schanzer notes, the Biden team’s drive to restore the Iran nuclear deal plainly inspired Tehran’s terrorist clients to start firing, even as it makes Israel less willing to listen to Washington’s efforts to broker a ceasefire.

It’s stunning how much success Biden has managed to reverse in not even four months. With long lines at the pump, slowing growth and rising inflation, it’s looking like the Jimmy Carter era — except that it took Carter years to produce the disasters that this president has fostered in scant months.

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Attacking test-in schools is anti-Asian

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Attacking test-in schools is anti-Asian

On Wednesday, a handful of students — including a couple of Brooklyn Tech kids — demonstrated against the specialized high school entrance exam in front of Stuyvesant HS in Lower Manhattan. Teens Take Charge, the group sponsoring the event, chose Stuyvesant as the venue because it is 70 percent Asian and this year just eight black students did well enough on the test to win entry.

What made this affair sad, besides the low turnout, was that The New York Times and NY1 took the rally seriously — thinking this somehow represents a majority opinion. Democratic politicians also pretend that the existence of elite schools, and the tests required to enter them, is a problem. During Thursday’s mayoral debate, only Eric Adams and Kathryn Garcia (a Stuyvesant grad) stood up for the entrance exam.

The problem is not the test. It’s a sign of the larger problem of too many underperforming elementary and middle schools in our city — and the absence of Gifted & Talented classes — in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The SHSAT is a color-blind admissions test where neither political influence nor money can buy entrance. For over 80 years, these schools have offered advancement to all through a high-quality, merit-driven education.

Remarkably, many of the same voices decrying the surge in anti-Asian assaults as the product of “systemic racism” also denounce a race-blind exam that happens to lead to elite high schools being predominantly Asian high schools, even suggesting that this, too, is somehow the product of (extremely well-hidden?) racism.

Dropping admission standards for the specialized high schools means sending in students who aren’t prepared for the rigorous workload, which helps no one and robs others of the challenging education they’ve earned. It’s the pursuit of “equity” at the expense of justice and excellence.

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Opinion

Letters to the Editor — May 16, 2021

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Letters to the Editor — May 16, 2021

End tribalism

Thank you to Ayaan Hirsi Ali (“The tyranny of tribalism,” May 12) for an amazing article about what is happening in America today. It’s a unique look at the old “divide and conquer” issues that have plagued Ali’s native country of Somalia, and are now plaguing America.

There is no longer freedom of speech because you are judged, called names and even canceled if you do not agree with another person’s narrative.

Our country is not perfect, and we’ve certainly have come a long way over the past century. But in the past eight years, it feels like we have stepped back in time, and our politicians and the media are turning our countrymen against each other more and more.

If we do not learn from the past, our failures or the failures of other countries, then what hope do we have?

Gina Beckmann
Salt Point

History’s heroes

Sohrab Ahmari’s column at first seemed to be another lament about “wokeness” (“Wisdom of Ages,” PostOpinion, May 10).

It was so much more. Telling Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s story of heroism transcends the loud voices of the crowd and speaks to a way of living a truly free life.

As he says, “Freedom meant choosing what one ought to do.”

We need to tell these human stories over and over to our children, so they can understand what takes a lifetime to understand, not erase them.

Jayne Lee
Rockway

Cop’s tot save

Bravo to Police Officer Alyssa Vogel for her heroic actions in rushing a wounded child out of harms way and to medical attention (“Hero cop’s assurance,” May 10).

Kudos also to the NYPD and Florida police for catching the suspect. It’s a desperately needed reminder of what police here and throughout the country face daily, and another stark example of how the vast majority of officers handle dangerous situations bravely and effectively.

Conspicuously absent are the usual tweets from the usual suspects decrying police actions. Right-minded people of all stripes need to push back against the selective outrage that fuels the anti-police rhetoric that endangers all of us.

David Perez
Brooklyn

Economy truths

Two of the primary rules in economics are that people act in their own self-interest and they respond to incentives (“Biden’s relief doesn’t ‘work,’ ” Charles Gasparino, May 8).

President Biden’s “stimulus” has created incentives that result in people not wanting to seek work. It’s in their self-interest to stay home because their compensation is on par with what it would be if they went out to work.

Democrats are creating an economy where government drives the market, and that is a recipe for disaster. History is loaded with failed societies where the collective made decisions at the expense of the individual.

When Biden says: “The economy is on the right track,” it just exposes his ignorance of basic economics.

Peter Kelly
Hazlet, NJ

Mother madness

As I read Matthew Walther’s column on mothers now being called “birthing people,” I shudder to think what’s next in the name of “political correctness” (“The Mother of All PC,” PostOpinion, May 12).

Will I be celebrating “sperm donor day” next month with my children? We all need to speak up and stop the madness before all traditions are canceled.

Lou Aiani
Staten Island

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