Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

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.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Probe of Secret Vaccine Talks Finds 'Access for All Was Never a Priority'

Public health campaigners said the investigation confirms "what we suspected all along. Vaccine nationalism and pharma profits trumped Covid solidarity."

Jake Johnson ·


Coalition Sues Biden EPA Over Approval of 'Highly Toxic' Pesticide Linked to Parkinson's

"This paraquat registration puts EPA on the wrong side of science, history, and the law."

Andrea Germanos ·


Here Are the 22 Democrats Who Voted Against Limiting Transfer of Military Gear to Cops

"This is absolutely unacceptable and these Democrats... should be held accountable."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Coal Is Dead': New Global Pact Announced After China's Bold Step

"Consigning coal to history is crucial to avoiding catastrophic climate change."

Julia Conley ·


Hundreds of Thousands Take to Streets Worldwide for 'Uproot the System' Climate Strikes

"The climate crisis has not disappeared," said Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. "It's the opposite—it's even more urgent now than it was before."

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo