Trump’s Apparent Disregard For Nation’s Laws Raises Fears


Publish Date:
December 19, 2016
  • Egelko, Bob
San Francisco Chronicle
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From flag-burning to libel, from conflicts of interest to torture, President-elect Donald Trump has made comments — in tweets, campaign orations and calm discussions — that have suggested he was either unaware of the applicable laws or didn’t care about them.

“Nearly every president has probably done something that a court has later held unconstitutional or contrary to law,” said Pamela Karlan, a Stanford law professor who recently served as supervisor of voting rights cases in the Obama administration’s Justice Department. “But I can’t think of one who had such an across-the-board combination of ignorance, indifference and defiance.”

“He’s consistently uninformed, and he’s consistently inconsistent,” said Jack Rakove, a Stanford professor of history and political science whose book about the origins of the Constitution won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1997.

Rakove said the closest comparison might be Richard Nixon, who famously told an interviewer in 1977 — three years after resigning from office — that “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” But Nixon at least knew what the laws were when he ordered a cover-up of the Watergate break-in, he said.

Karlan offered another comparison, President Andrew Jackson. After the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, ruled in 1832 that a U.S. treaty prohibited a state from seizing Cherokee land, Jackson allegedly said, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” The government proceeded to ignore the ruling.

“Most presidents don’t talk that way,” Karlan observed. “Whatever presidents do, they express respect for laws in their public statements.”

Karlan was among more than 40 constitutional law professors to sign an open letter to Trump last week urging him to reconsider his views on several legal issues, including flag-burning and freedom of the press. One of Trump’s recent public statements was a tweet saying anyone who burned the U.S. flag should face “loss of citizenship or a year in jail.”

“Despite his admiration for Justice Scalia, he appears to have a very different view of the First Amendment,” said Nate Persily, another Stanford law professor.

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