Jules Bernstein talks with Eleanor LeCain about an unusual strategy
Disgusted by Donald Trump’s numerous violations of the U.S. Constitution and his other misdeeds, longtime DSA member and labor lawyer Jules Bernstein initiated his own citizen activism project this past summer via an online petition to get Congress to censure Trump. Journalist and political consultant Eleanor LeCain talked with him about this form of activism. As we went to press, the petition had 55,600 signatures and can be located at censuredonaldtrump.com.—Ed.
Eleanor LeCain: In July of this year, you started an online petition for a “Redress of Grievances under the First Amendment Seeking Congressional Censure of Donald Trump.” What is congressional censure?
JB: It’s the process of either or both the House of Representatives and the Senate censuring (or condemning) members of either body or presidents as well. For example, Trump’s favorite president, Andrew Jackson (who was responsible for the “trail of tears”), was censured by the Senate in 1834 for failure to turn over documents. And the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured by the Senate in 1954 for bringing that body into “dishonor and disrepute.” In my view, Trump’s record of wrongdoing is as deserving of censure as any previous U.S. political malefactor, including Richard Nixon.
EC: What are your grounds for censure?
JB: When I first posted our petition on July 27, I listed nine specific grounds that ranged from firing FBI Director James Comey to refusing to release his tax returns. Since then, I’ve added six more, ranging from encouraging police misconduct to adopting unlawful bans on immigration and transgender people serving in the military, and abusing the pardon power by pardoning Joe Arpaio. It is hard to believe that in less than a year a president could have engaged in as much misconduct as has Trump.
EL: Why do you believe he has done so much harm so soon?
JB: He appears to have no respect for law, or the rule of law itself. Throughout his business career he treated the legal process with contempt, and he dealt with those who opposed him by using lawyers and litigation as a financial bludgeon to impose upon them the rule of the financially stronger, namely brute legal force, which is the opposite of what the rule of law aspires to be. Presidents of the United States have a constitutional and fiduciary obligation to respect and uphold the Constitution and laws and promote the legal system for the benefit of all. He uses the law solely for his own benefit.
EL: How does censure relate to impeachment?
JB: Impeachment is a slow and deliberate process involving both houses of Congress and requires a trial in the Senate before the Chief Justice of the United States. It requires proof of the commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and a 2/3 vote for conviction. In contrast, censure involves a simple majority vote in the Senate or House, or both, and while it would not result in Trump’s removal from office, it would constitute a significant act of congressional reproach. And it could be a stepping stone toward impeachment.
EL: Who is signing the petition?
JB: As best as I can tell, they are ordinary citizens—right, left, and center—who believe that Donald Trump is an outlier from the normal spectrum of U.S. political discourse and engagement, someone so far outside the boundaries of presidential conduct as to threaten the foundations of our republic. Indeed, one of our most active signatories is Richard Painter, a law professor, who was chief ethical adviser in the George W. Bush White House between 2005 and 2007.
EL: Activists are constantly being asked to sign petitions. What do you hope to achieve with this one?
JB: We want members of Congress to join us and sponsor Trump’s censure. If they don’t, voters will know where they stand. We will present it to Congress close to the 2018 elections to keep Trump’s misdeeds in the public eye. Meanwhile, we urge readers to sign on and circulate our petition as widely as possible on social media. It can be found at censuredonaldtrump.com.
Jules Bernstein is a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who has represented unions and workers for more than five decades. Eleanor LeCain is a political consultant and journalist with a weekly radio show on Progressive Radio Network heard worldwide on www.prn.fm.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Democratic Left magazine.
Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.