'In a sweeping power grab, the Department of Justice has asked Congress for the ability to go directly to chief judges in order to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies.
The move is part of a recent push to expand government powers during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Politico, which has reviewed documents that detail the DOJ’s requests to lawmakers on this and a host of other topics – including state of limitations, asylum, and how court hearings are conducted.
The move has tapped into a broader fear among civil liberties advocates and Donald Trump’s critics — that the president will use a moment of crisis to push for controversial policy changes. Already, he has cited the pandemic as a reason for heightening border restrictions and restricting asylum claims. He has also pushed for further tax cuts as the economy withers, arguing that it would soften the financial blow to Americans. And even without policy changes, Trump has vast emergency powers that he could legally deploy right now to try and slow the coronavirus outbreak. –Politico
Politico notes that the requests are unlikely to make it through the Democratic-controlled House.
As part of the requests, the DOJ proposed that Congress grant the attorney general the ability to ask any 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.” Similarly, these top judges would have broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies.
Additionally, the requested changes would explicitly say that people with COVID-19 cannot apply for asylum – a request that comes on the heels of a Friday announcement by the Trump administration that it would begin denying entry to all illegal immigrants at the southern border – including those seeking asylum.
According to Politico, the changes 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.”
As we have heard from those in the legal profession, however, the courts have already ground to a virtual halt amid the Chinese coronavirus outbreak – as jurors aren’t coming in, and face-to-face depositions aren’t happening right now in many parts of the country.'
Read more: In Sweeping Power Grab, DOJ Seeks Ability to Detain People Indefinitely Without Trial