Donald Trump, currently President of the United States, made comments today that make clear he does not respect our constitutionally based justice system. Discussing the process for prosecuting the New York City terrorist, Trump stated at a cabinet meeting, “We need quick justice and we need strong justice — much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it’s a laughing stock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.” Fox News, in their online story about the piece, edited the quote to make it sound like he was talking about the immigration system. This quote was not about immigration. This line was about the United States criminal justice system, which Trump has insulted.
This should come as no surprise, as his imperiousness as president has frequently stepped on Constitutional protections. Famously, Trump took out full page ads in NY City papers in 1989 during the prosecution of the “Central Park Five”: 5 young men who were wrongly accused of a brutal beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park. “Muggers and murderers,” he wrote, “should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” “Though he didn’t refer to the teenagers by name, it was clear to anyone in the city that he was referring to them,” said the New York Times. The botched prosecution led to the wrong men being locked up for years, and the actual criminal, serial rapist Matias Reyes, continued to roam the streets attacking women. Even after DNA proved their innocence, and the exonerations are now an exemplar of poor police procedures and wrongful prosecution: a fact the Trump still has not acknowledged. “Quick”, by necessity, has to take a back seat to the more important principle of “justice”.
It’s ironic that he would call the criminal justice system a laughingstock the same week his former campaign chair and other advisers had charges brought against them in Federal court. They are probably happy to be out on bond as their cases are pending, and glad to avail all possible defenses under the Constitution. It’s easy to point at an evil person like the man who drove into a crowd of innocent bikers in New York… but, the Constitution protects us all. The justice system is not one size fits all, and most of the Constitutional protections are to prevent Government overreach, they are to prevent the violations of those rightly and wrongly accused. Our justice system has developed over that last two centuries as a model replicated around the world.
We all want to see justice brought to the New York City terrorist, and all those who would commit crimes against our people. But the system is not a joke. As an attorney, both prosecutor and defense attorney, respect for the Constitution and respect for our individual rights are the starting point for justice, and it is disappointing, albeit not surprising, for Donald Trump to disparage that. This is not a partisan issue… like many Republicans, I believe in our Constitution and our justice system. It’s flawed, and those of us who work in it are always working to better it, but it is not a joke. And I hope that the leaders in this country, on both sides of the aisle, stand up to speak up for it.
The White House later tried to walk back Trump’s comments about the justice system. At a briefing later in the day, spokesperson Sarah Sanders denied that Trump said our justice system was a laughingstock, and tried to claim that he was saying the process has people calling us a joke. Video LINK. But that’s not what he said… very clearly he was the one calling it a joke. Here’s his full quote:
“They’ll go through court for years,” he said. “And at the end, they’ll be — who knows what happens. We need quick justice, and we need strong justice, much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke, and it’s a laughingstock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.”
The fact that they are trying to reframe the president’s comments shows that they know they are inappropriate. The fact that the White House spokesperson is straight up lying to us about what the president said is embarrassing. I’ll leave it to you to decide who is the joke, here. Sadly, it’s no laughing matter.