J.D. Tuccille: Democrats’ weaponization of courts against Trump invites retaliation

Gun Rights

Get ready for endless abuses of the law to punish political enemies

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When challenging unethical candidates or causes you think wrongheaded, it’s wise to confine opposition to aboveboard channels for determining elections and policy outcomes. That risks losses, but it also recognizes that breaking rules can spiral into unrestrained and very dangerous conflicts. Unfortunately, America’s political factions, led by Democrats, seem to have forgotten that principle. With cases such as the recently concluded prosecution of Donald Trump, they risk unrestrained warfare. 

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“Both of these things can be true at once: The jury did its job, and this case was an ill-conceived, unjustified mess,” cautions former Assistant United States Attorney Elie Honig.  

Honig emphasizes that charges in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against Republican former president Trump are unprecedented. “No state prosecutor — in New York, or Wyoming, or anywhere — has ever charged federal election laws as a direct or predicate state crime, against anyone, for anything.” The charges, he says, are “seemingly crafted individually for the former president and nobody else” by a prosecutor who ran for office as an anti-Trump candidate, in a trial presided over by a judge who donated to Democratic causes. 

Jurors rendered guilty verdicts on 34 charges based on the case presented to them and according to instructions from the judge. But the whole thing looks like a political hit to many Americans. 

An ABC News/Ipsos poll found 50 per cent of Americans approve of the guilty verdicts in the Manhattan case, but 47 per cent consider the charges “politically motivated.” Interestingly, an identical share saw political motives when Trump was indicted last year for mishandling classified documents. 

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“Perceptions of Donald Trump (and Joe Biden) are statistically unchanged from before the verdict was announced, suggesting minimal changes in how Americans feel about the two presidential candidates,” adds Ipsos. 

That doesn’t mean perceptions of Trump or of Biden are positive; to the contrary, Americans have low opinions of both. The 49 per cent of respondents who told ABC News/Ipsos they think Trump should drop out of the race after the verdict is identical to the share who told Pew pollsters in April that they want replacements for both major-party presidential candidates. 

And that doesn’t mean the guilty verdicts will be ineffective. In a race in which Joe Biden and Donald Trump are separated by roughly once per cent, peeling off even a few votes could have a significant impact. Or maybe the effort will unexpectedly explode in Democrats’ faces. 

After the verdicts were delivered, 10 per cent of Republican voters told Reuters/Ipsos they are now less likely to support Trump, while 35 per cent are more likely. Independent voters are 25 per cent less likely to support the newly minted felon, with 18 per cent more likely to cast their votes for him. The GOP raised funds on its candidate’s legal woes, gathering tens of millions of dollars after the verdicts. 

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That makes the Manhattan case a hell of a gamble that may not pay off for Democrats, assuming Elie Honig and the half of the population who agree with him about the political nature of the charges are correct. But Biden and company may consider it a worthwhile roll of the dice against a candidate and party they despise in a campaign which has seen them on the back foot for months. 

But this isn’t just a matter of rules-breaking gamesmanship. Weaponizing the courts to take down a political enemy sets a dangerous precedent. It’s an example that can and likely will be emulated in the future by anybody with prosecutorial power. 

In 2022, James D. Long, Morgan Wack, and Victor Menaldo of the University of Washington’s political science department cautioned that, while politicians should be held accountable for illegal conduct, it’s enormously risky if perceived as partisan misuse of the law.  

“If the prosecution of past leaders is brought by a political rival, it can lead to a cycle of prosecutorial retaliation,” they wrote. 

Sure enough, John Yoo, a University of California-Berkeley law professor who served in George W. Bush’s administration, urges: “Only retaliation in kind can produce the deterrence necessary to enforce a political version of mutual assured destruction; without the threat of prosecution of their own leaders, Democrats will continue to charge future Republican presidents without restraint.” 

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Yoo will find a sympathetic ear in Trump if the former president regains the White House. Notoriously vindictive, he encouraged “lock her up” chants against 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, threatened prison time for reporters who publish leaks, and vowed last year to “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.” 

A world where law is a weapon against enemies is one the former president was born to inhabit. But it’s not just the courts; Democrats have turned the administrative state into a partisan bludgeon. 

Days before the Manhattan verdict, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held in a lawsuit against New York regulators that “the NRA plausibly alleged that respondent violated the First Amendment by coercing regulated entities to terminate their business relationships with the NRA in order to punish or suppress gun-promotion advocacy.” 

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The National Rifle Association’s lawsuit can now proceed with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, which warns that “if New York is allowed to do this to the NRA, it will provide a playbook for other state officials to abuse their authority to target groups they don’t like.” 

Unfortunately, the use of courts and regulatory agencies as battlefields for unprincipled lawfare against political opponents has already been normalized. That’s likely why poll numbers barely budge when a former president is convicted even though a majority believe he broke some law or other. 

In fact, both major presidential contenders are not only wildly unpopular, they’re seen as crooks. According to Gallup, the only administration of the last 40 years considered less ethical by the public than that of Joe Biden is the White House under his predecessor and possible successor, Donald Trump. 

Unethical politicians are exactly who you’d expect to abuse the law to punish their enemies. 

National Post

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