Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Trump's Legal Mouthpiece

Jay Sekulow Has History
Right Here in Hampton Roads

            A man identified as Trump’s lawyer has appeared on national news shows of late. He’s not Trump’s only lawyer, but he is the lawyer speaking for all of Trump’s lawyers. His name is Jay Sekulow. He has deep roots here in Hampton Roads.
            In 2001, as a contributing writer for Port Folio Weekly, now defunct, I wrote a piece contrasting the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) with the better-known American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLJ, where Sekulow is still director, was founded out of Pat Robertson’s Regent University with the particular intent of competing with the ACLU on most issues.
            The article I wrote, reproduced below from my files (the published article may have been slightly edited, I have no copy of it now to verify), distinguishes the purposes of the ACLJ and the ACLU. This suggests to me that “the Russia thing” is on course to become a clash of alternate legal realities, making “the rule by law” a matter of opinion, not necessarily a matter of justice for all.
            The Port Folio article in its entirety as I submitted it in 2001, appears below. Keep in mind that some things have changed.

Whose Civil Rights?
The ACLJ v. The ACLU

            July 10, 2001:―Every weekday at noon and midnight on Christian Talk Radio WPMH-AM, "Jay Sekulow Live," a national call-in program originating in Virginia Beach, offers legal advice to believers concerning matters of faith and its public expression.
            Callers typically complain about perceptions of religious discrimination and censorship. Host Jay Sekulow gives each a preliminary hearing, and if he thinks a case has merit he transfers the caller to his team of lawyers on back-up phones to take the information for further investigation. Three or four calls come in that way each day.
            Between calls he plugs an Action Alert petition urging the U.S. Senate to move forward with President Bush's nominees for federal court judges. "We want the right judges in place," he tells listeners. With 100 current vacancies, "You don't want to see Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, or the American Civil Liberties Union appointing judges."
            Sekulow is chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ, the activist legal right arm of Regent University. His team of lawyers are student interns from Regent University Law School.
            Though not an official part of the school, the ACLJ's headquarters are on the top floor of Robertson Hall, the law school building. The two organizations have "a close, long-term relationship," says Sekulow, which includes the opportunity "to train up the next generation of lawyers on the issues."
            Fifteen to 20 interns work at the ACLJ year-round, part-time during the school year, full-time over summers. Forty-five per cent of the ACLJ staff are Regent graduates.
            This gives students "tremendous exposure" to the workings of the legal system, from preparing cases for argument to reserved seats in the visitors' gallery of the U.S. Supreme Court.
            Sekulow himself has argued nine cases there during his career, winning about as much as losing. He lost two high-profile free speech cases last year involving student prayer at school athletic events and protests outside abortion clinics.
            At any given time the ACLJ is working on 150 to 200 cases through offices worldwide, including Washington, D.C., and Strasbourg, France. Its focus is on First Amendment issues involving religious freedom and separation of church and state. Judging from Sekulow's frequent radio bullets, its most pernicious enemy, among many, is the ACLU.
            But according to Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU office in Richmond, the gap is somewhat conditional. "We both promote religious freedom," he says. "But our interpretation of the separation of church and state is pretty much antithetical."
            That is, either group will defend an individual's right to practice religion freely, but the ACLU, watchdog over church-state separation, takes cases where individuals are confronted in public with unwanted religious expression. The ACLJ defends the rights of individuals to evangelize--that is, provide that unwanted expression.
            The two groups rarely go head-to-head in a courtroom, though, because each tends to represent clients bringing suits against government agencies or other bodies, who retain their own legal teams.
            A very different reading of the First Amendment's establishment clause, separating church and state, seems to be at the core of their antithetical relationship.
            Says ACLU's Willet: "There is a breaking place in law taught in the US, (that) with the adoption of...the separation of church and state, even though much of law is grounded in religious traditions...ultimately the law of this country is secular...and laws...and judicial proceedings are all state proceedings that must operate under strict separation."
            Regent Law School Dean Jeff Brauch recommends the writings of James Madison, saying, "That was far from the framers' minds--a secular society in that religion has no part in public life. To say it's illegitimate to make religious arguments in the public sphere is absolutely a misinterpretation of the First Amendment."
            When the best minds can't agree, how will the people live?


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