Yesterday Donald Trump decided to enact a wide-sweeping ban on Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants that led Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to detain and even, in some cases, deport individuals arriving in airports across the country. By late afternoon, the ACLU had won a stay of the ban in federal court—the first of many anticipated legal defeats for the week-old administration. What should have happened next was that anyone being detained should have been released, and all attempts to detain and deport foreign nationals based on the Executive Order should have ceased.
Instead, Homeland Security issued a press release indicating that judicial rulings wouldn’t affect the “overall implementation” of Trump’s EO. Um, excuse me? A FEDERAL COURT ruled that the ban is unconstitutional, and therefore cannot go into effect as currently written. How exactly does that ruling not impact the ban’s implementation? And, sure enough, according to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), one of the groups that sued the federal government in New York, attorneys at US airports are still waiting for Homeland Security to release people being detained under Trump’s order.
“We continue to face Border Patrol non-compliance and chaos at every airport across the country and around the world,” said Marielena Hincapié, NILC’s executive director.
BORDER PATROL NON-COMPLIANCE? What the literal hell? Judicial orders are not optional. They are legally binding. In fact, in cases where individuals and/or entities decide to disregard judicial orders, the federal courts often call in US Marshals for assistance in enforcing those decisions. In this case, if the courts were to do so, we would have US Marshals being tasked with confronting non-compliant CBP and Homeland Security agents. Would the Marshals even do it? Is it possible that we could have federal employees from one agency firing upon federal employees from another agency? Or would individual agents simply choose which side they agree with politically?
I feel like we’ve officially entered the Twilight Zone because apparently our federal government needs a refresher course on what the government is and isn’t supposed to be and do (I’m looking at you, Trump, and you, Congress). So let’s just quickly review the basis of American democracy, as established by the Constitution (and illustrated at usa.gov):
Why three branches? Because the Constitution says so. And why is power distributed across multiple branches? Again, from usa.gov: “to ensure a central government in which no individual or group gains too much control… The U.S. federal government seeks to act in the best interests of its citizens through this system of checks and balances.”
Let me repeat: Each branch ensures that no other branch gains too much power. And for 240 years, this has been the way America has operated. Has it been perfect? Um, no. Has it been better than a dictatorship? Absolutely. Have we Americans grown accustomed to our supposed freedoms? You betcha. But in one weekend, Trump has thrown away two and a half centuries of operating instructions, and now our very form of government is being threatened by a businessman with zero experience in government of any kind.
Is this how people felt when Nixon obstructed investigations into his political activities? Because that’s the last constitutional crisis the US faced. Unless you count Congress refusing to vote on President Obama’s choice to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court for hundreds upon hundreds of days, which [spoiler alert] I DO. Unfortunately, most historians do not, so there’s that.
Other notable constitutional crises in US history? The contested election of 1876, which was decided ultimately by an ad-hoc Electoral Commission; the secession of seven Southern states in 1861, which led to [cough] the CIVIL WAR; and Britain’s Stamp Act of 1765, which first raised the issue of taxation without representation—you know, the whole reason we fought the Revolution and created a Constitution that would prevent any individual or group from gaining too much control over our government…? That’s right—constitutional crises led to both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. I don’t mind saying I feel a tad sick to my stomach (and at heart) trying to figure out how we will dig ourselves out of this one.
So yeah, we’re in dire straits already, and the orange dude has only been president for a week. Peachy.
Oh—and in other news, while we were all foaming at the mouth over this power play and the resulting chaos, Trump removed the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the National Security Council and replaced them with—Stephen Bannon, his white supremacist chief adviser. Because Bannon obviously has the global experience needed to keep America safe.
If you get a chance, check out this piece in The Atlantic: A Clarifying Moment in American History. And hold on tight, friends. Because here we go…