Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

The Department of Justice headquarters, February 19, 2020.

The Department of Justice headquarters, February 19, 2020. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

'Oh Hell No': DOJ Using Coronavirus Crisis to Push for Expansive Emergency Powers

"This is abhorrent (also: predictable)."

Eoin Higgins

The Department of Justice is using the coronavirus outbreak to ask Congress for sweeping emergency powers including suspending habeas corpus during an emergency, a power grab that was denounced by civil liberties advocates.

"Oh hell no," tweeted Fletcher School professor Daniel Drezner. 

The DOJ plans were reported on by Politico's Betsy Woodruff Swan, who reviewed the request documents. 

According to Swan:

The proposal would also grant those top judges broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to "any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings," according to draft legislative language the department shared with Congress. In making the case for the change, the DOJ document wrote that individual judges can currently pause proceedings during emergencies, but that their proposal would make sure all judges in any particular district could handle emergencies "in a consistent manner."

The request raised eyebrows because of its potential implications for habeas corpus—the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release.

"You could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying," National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers executive director Norman L. Reimer told Swan. "Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government."

The documents also ask for the authority to conduct videoconference hearings even without the defendant's permission, banning people with the coronavirus from applying for asylum, and pausing the statute of limitations during an emergency. 

The asylum rules, said Tahirih Justice Center CEO Layli Miller-Munro, are unnecessary and cruel. 

"I think it's a humanitarian tragedy that fails to recognize that vulnerable people from those countries are among the most persecuted and that protecting them is exactly what the refugee convention was designed to do," said Miller-Munro.

The news sent shockwaves through the Beltway. 

"This is abhorrent (also: predictable)," tweeted Economist reporter John Fasman.

According to Swan, it's unlikely the bill will pass the Democrat-led House. 

Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) signaled his opposition to the bill on Twitter Saturday afternoon.

"Congress must loudly reply NO," said Amash. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Addressing Crisis 'Existentially Imperiling' Its People, Vanuatu Declares Climate Emergency

"We are in danger now, not just in the future," said Prime Minister Bob Loughman.

Andrea Germanos ·


'Grotesque': Disgust as Trump Reads Names of Uvalde Victims at NRA Convention

Former President Donald Trump and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas were among those pushing a "good guys with guns" theory that "utterly failed" the latest victims of a mass shooting.

Andrea Germanos ·


Wall Street-Funded Democrat PAC to Spend $1 Million in Bid to Unseat Tlaib: Report

"Imagine spending $1 million to oust Rashida Tlaib instead of organizing in Detroit to make sure Michigan goes blue," quipped one progressive group.

Brett Wilkins ·


Parents Demand Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty 'For the Sake of the Children'

"We cannot remain silent as the fossil fuel industry and world leaders rob our children of a livable future," parents from 32 nations wrote in an open letter.

Brett Wilkins ·


'We Can Do Better' Than Biden's Paltry Student Debt Relief Plan, Says AOC

The president's approach, said the New York Democrat, is "just enough to anger the people against it *and* the people who need forgiveness the most."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo