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The States Must Protect Our Rights If Washington Won't

The U.S. Capitol building, center, and part of the Washington Monument, right, on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Julio Cortez/AP)
The U.S. Capitol building, center, and part of the Washington Monument, right, on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Julio Cortez/AP)

The sorry spectacle of a sham impeachment trial — in which the vast majority of Republican senators refused to call even a single witness or issue a single subpoena — highlights the need for the American people to defend our constitutional democracy, protect civil liberties, and restore the rule of law before the freedoms that we enjoy are lost to future generations.

It is obvious to all — even the most partisan hacks — that President Trump abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress. Trump apologist Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee admitted during the Senate deliberations that the evidence against Trump is clear, tweeting: “The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did.”

Conservative law professor Orin Kerr wrote: “In an effort to falsely portray his likely 2020 opponent as being under criminal investigation, Trump sent his personal lawyer ... to co-opt official government power to get a foreign country to issue a press release stating that Trump's opponent was under investigation.”

Even Trump's attorney general, William Barr, said recently: “From a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government use the apparatus of the state ... in a way that could affect the outcome of an election.”

The founders expressly stated in our constitution that impeachment is the process by which Congress can hold presidents accountable. If the current leaders in the Senate will not call witnesses or demand the documents known to exist, it is up to us, the American people, to bear witness and defend our democracy. Our president is not a king.

Our president is not a king.

The work to defend our democracy must start with voting rights. This year, more than ever, demands fair and free elections. With voter suppression efforts at full tilt in states across the country, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is fighting to make sure every vote and every voice counts. We are litigating more than 25 cases in states including New Hampshire, Indiana, Ohio and Florida that challenge voter suppression, improve ballot access and ensure that all votes count equally.

In Massachusetts, we have called upon the state legislature to adopt Election Day registration, to guarantee the right to vote to all who are eligible. And the recent debacle in Iowa highlights, again, the need to ensure the right to vote is not hampered by technological failures — whether accidental or intentional. Paper ballots, like we have in Massachusetts and in New Hampshire, are a wise choice. And rigorous auditing to ensure ballots are properly counted is essential. We must do all that we can to ensure that the 2020 election is not stolen.

But our work must extend beyond the ballot box.

As Washington abdicates its constitutional responsibilities, the states can continue to be a safe harbor for civil rights and civil liberties. Massachusetts leaders can and must act to protect our residents — especially if Congress fails to do so. Massachusetts can and must be a state where liberty is respected and democracy is preserved.

Consider reproductive justice. In the face of nationwide assaults on access to reproductive and other forms of health care, the Massachusetts legislature has an opportunity and obligation to pass the ROE Act, a bill to ensure that abortion remains safe, accessible and affordable to all who seek health care here — no matter what happens in Washington.

Massachusetts can and must be a state where liberty is respected and democracy is preserved.

Similarly, as the Trump administration continues to tear immigrant families apart and force asylum-seekers into dangerous encampments on the U.S. border, Massachusetts municipalities are taking action to protect our neighbors and friends. In defiance of the Trump administration, nearly one-third of all Massachusetts cities and towns have passed welcoming resolutions to build trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities. The Massachusetts legislature must do its part, too, by passing the Safe Communities Act to ensure that state tax dollars are not used to bolster the cruel policy of intentional family separation. Massachusetts elected officials must act now, lest their silence constitute complicity, their inaction acquiescent to evil.

The predictably partisan lock-step vote to acquit President Trump in the U.S. Senate reflects deep dysfunction in our constitutional structure. But the fight is far from over and our founders were wise enough to distribute power in a way that ultimately gives us — the people — the ability to reign in governmental abuse.

Now is when we set aside despair and resolve to flex our democratic muscle: Show up at a rally, join a movement, call your legislator, and — above all else — vote. In the face of corruption and venality in Washington, we, the American people, must dare to create a more perfect union.

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Carol Rose Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Carol Rose is a lawyer, journalist and executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.


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