As the closing event of FSU’s Constitution Day, Carol Rose, executive director of the Massachusetts branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke about what the organization does and discussed some of the issues brought up and caused by the Trump administration.
Rose met an audience of approximately 20 students, faculty and staff in the Forum on Monday, Sept. 18.
Rose, a former reporter for United Press International and a Harvard Law School graduate, joked about her “concerns” regarding Constitution Day. “It’s mandated by Congress, which strikes me as forced speech,” she said.
Rose also noted FSU was holding the event the day after the holiday, commending the University’s “rebellious spirit.”
Rose said this past election saw a boom in ACLU membership. Before the election, on Nov. 8, there were 15,000 ACLU members in Massachusetts. “Today there are 77,000.”
Rose said the 2016 election season also concerned her, as it “released forces of xenophobia, racism and authoritarianism” across America, as well as a “lack of stability.”
She attributed these “forces” to Trump’s campaign rhetoric and said they’re still prevalent now through the president’s “Twitter feed and, frankly, his actions.”
This behavior is encouraged by Trump’s cabinet, especially Attorney General Jeff Sessions, she said.
The Trump administration “have made clear their intent to roll back the fundamental civil rights and civil liberties in in our country,” Rose said.
In order to fight these rollbacks, Rose and the ACLU proposed what they call the “Freedom Agenda,” a plan that will be enacted by “not only lawyers, but everybody.”
This plan is applied to three areas – both federal and state courts, legislative reforms in the state houses and Congress and what Rose called “people power.”
The ACLU will work with people to “come out” and stand up against the acts of the current presidential administration.
Rose applauded Massachusetts’ openness when it comes to respecting its citizens and their march toward political change. She said many other state ACLU branches don’t post signs on their buildings and have unlisted phone numbers. “In Massachusetts, we have a lot more freedom than many other people do in the country or in the world.”
She attributed this freedom to town-based government, which “encourages people to participate in democracy.”
“Congress is so gridlocked,” said Rose. Because of this, she urged the importance of “getting things done” at the state level. Massachusetts was one of the first states in the country to legalize interracial and gay marriage. Rose said because of this, it’s up to Massachusetts to kick-start reforms to the rights of speech, religion, privacy, voting, abortion, contraception and the LGBTQ+ community.
Trump’s Muslim travel ban is unconstitutional, according to Rose. The ban barred people from seven predominantly-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.
Since the ban was planned “without any forethought,” many innocent Muslim people were “detained without due process,” she said.
“Motive matters,” Rose said. This ban was enacted as a result of “racial and religious animus,” with “no pretense” of other motives.
Trump’s recent announcement to “throw into doubt … about 800,000 people” protected by DACA is also an issue the ACLU is working toward fixing, said Rose. The announcement was made “over twitter, which should have been a sign.”
Former President Obama enacted DACA in 2012 in order to give child immigrants a two-year period of deffered action. Rose said this encouraged many immigrants to “come out of the shadows … especially those who go to college or are in the military.”
These people “relied on the government to be honest and truthful,” she said.
She pointed out the difference between “not having the right in the first place and having that right taken away.” This is what made Trump’s announcement truly horrific. She compared this to Trump’s decision – once again, via Twitter – that the U.S. military would no longer allow transgender people to serve.
These issues may make it to the Supreme Court to determine their statuses as constitutional. “Does it matter [to the Supreme Court] if a previous administration constitutes something and this administration tries to take it away?”
David Rabinowitz, a freshman, said he came to the talk because he voted for Trump. He wanted to hear “some opposing views.” He said he gained more knowledge of DACA, and now sees the program’s “positive sides.”
Rose said the ACLU is in support of the Safe Communities Act, a new Massachusetts bill which states “local police don’t have to comply” with “ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) roundups” of immigrants. Under this act, town law enforcement may assist ICE, but they would no longer be required to. The local police’s “job is to keep us safe. Their job is to protect us from getting mugged or raped or robbed.”
When those meant to protect citizens are “seen as agents of ICE … people won’t report crimes,” she said. ICE and local law enforcement “shouldn’t be one and the same. We’re trying to make that distinction quantified by state law.”
Now is the time to “stop the demonization” of law enforcement which would surely stem from collaborations with ICE.
Rose said this, in part, has led to the United States’ inflated incarceration rate. “In 1972, we locked up about 93 people for every 100,000. Today, it’s 536.” She added black and Hispanic men are “vastly, vastly overrepresented” in that statistic.
“We think we’re free,” she said, “but we lock up too many people.”
In order to combat these startling rates, Rose proposed eradicating mandatory minimum sentences. She said, especially in the case of drug users, incarceration won’t help anyone rehabilitate.
Drug use is a “public safety crisis … it’s about health,” she said. “We failed the war on drugs.”
Dealers are treated as felons, Rose said. The ACLU proposes that drug dealing be treated as a misdemeanor.
“This is a time for citizen action,” Rose said. She encouraged everyone to get involved in social and political change, no matter what side of the political spectrum they belong to. She told the audience not to be afraid to speak out, to write letters to the editor and to find new ways of interpreting the Constitution.
“The Constitution itself doesn’t change, society does,” she said. The document’s “power is not in who wrote it; it’s in those who interpret it.”
Jackie Salvas, a junior, said she wanted to expand her knowledge of current political hot topics. She said the Trump administration is “chaotic” and that she wanted to learn how to become more involved in the democratic process.
Rose made it clear the ACLU is a non-partisan organization. They will represent groups from any party as long as their goals are just. “Our client is the First Amendment,” she said.
A member of the audience asked if there was any legal standing to impeach President Trump.
Rose said Trump may be in violation of a law which states that the President is not allowed to give gifts to foreign leaders. Trump has been known to put up foreign leaders in his own hotels. Rose considers this to be bribery and “a huge constitutional crisis.”
She said she has many issues with President Trump, but these hotel “bribes” are America’s best bet for an “impeachment campaign.” The issues with Trump may just keep piling up.
She added, “I think he’s dangerous.”
[Editor’s note: Staff writer
Zachary Colten contributed
to this article.]