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ACLU draws battle lines over Trump win

Tom Fontaine
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Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump speaks to a large crowd at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown on October 21, 2016.
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The American Civil Liberties Union website homepage.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s website has a large photo of President-elect Donald Trump on its homepage, with this simple message: “See you in court.”

The ACLU placed a “donate” button beside Trump’s image to solicit money for potential legal fights based on some of his campaign promises.

While Trump has taken a more moderate tone since his stunning election win Tuesday, the ACLU is one of several left-leaning organizations drawing battle lines.

“The new president would be creating a lot more jobs for attorneys if he tried to follow through with everything he promised on the campaign trail. Some of those things are clearly unconstitutional, and some are arguably unconstitutional,” University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said.

A spokeswoman for Trump did not return messages.

“It’s not unexpected,” Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist based in Harrisburg, said of the ACLU’s actions. “Those are the usual suspects.”

Gerow said throwing up roadblocks just out of political spite could rile the public.

“People are fed up with the gridlock in Washington and folks who are merely intent on gumming up the works,” Gerow said.

In a statement issued about eight hours after Trump’s victory speech, ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero urged Trump “to reconsider and change course on certain campaign promises.” If he does not, Romero said Trump “will have to contend with the full firepower of the ACLU at every step.”

The ACLU, which declined to comment beyond Romero’s statement, employs more than 300 attorneys.

Romero said his organization opposes comments Trump made during the campaign about ousting an estimated 11 undocumented immigrants; restricting the flow of Muslims into the United States and closely monitoring ones who live here; punishing women who get abortions; reauthorizing torture in interrogations; changing libel laws; and restricting free speech.

“These proposals are not simply un-American and wrong-headed, they are unlawful and unconstitutional,” Romero said, arguing that they violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and 14th amendments and various federal and international laws.

Any constitutional battles could ultimately wind up in the Supreme Court, which is comprised of four justices who were appointed by Republican presidents and four by Democrats. Filling a vacancy on the court will be an early priority of Trump’s.

Bruce Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University, said Trump has “studiously adopted a moderate tone” since the election, softening his position on some issues.

Trump said Friday he was willing to keep at least parts of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in place, including a provision that allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health plans until age 26 and one that prevents insurers from denying coverage based on a pre-existing medical condition, The Wall Street Journal reported.

During the campaign, Trump originally called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” a religious ban that the ACLU argued would violate the First Amendment. Later, Trump said he would suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur,” which legal experts said a president can do by executive order under existing immigration laws.

Beyond the ACLU, the environmental group Friends of the Earth condemned Trump’s vow during the campaign to withdraw from an international pact to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Then, departing from environmental issues, the group’s U.S. climate and energy director Benjamin Schreiber said, “We are committed to fighting President-elect Trump and the xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia and sexism he embodies.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the political action committee Democracy for America, pledged to “obstruct, delay and halt the attacks on people of color, women and working families that will emerge from a Trump administration,” though he did not provide specifics.

Ledewitz said he didn’t find the threats unusual or unique to Trump’s approaching presidency.

“The ACLU sues every administration,” Ledewitz said.

Burkoff estimated that the organization took the Obama administration to court thousands of times.

Something that will be nearly impossible to legally challenge — and could represent an easy, early victory for Trump among his most ardent supporters — is Trump’s proposal to repeal executive orders implemented by President Obama, legal experts said.

“That’s very hard to challenge. The advantage of governing by executive order … is that you can do it quickly and effectively. You can rescind it just as quickly,” Ledewitz said, which would “return you essentially to the policies of the Bush administration.”

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or [email protected].

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