It’s late January, 2017, President Donald J. Trump has been inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. Before he even took a seat in the Oval Office, rumors were flying about how the President-Elect’s actions may have permanent and long-lasting effects on constitutional law. There are always predictions about how a new president is going to interpret and enforce existing laws. And, rumors concerning the impact on constitutional laws are being taken seriously..
All presidents must adhere to the Constitution and federal law, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the interpretation of the law will always remain the same. How constitutional law is applied can vary dramatically from one president to another. Throughout history, many presidents have significantly changed the way constitutional law is interpreted and/or applied. Andrew Jackson’s often-creative interpretation is an excellent example; some believed that actions like invading Spanish Florida or removing Federal Deposits from the Bank of the United States were unconstitutional, yet in the nation’s best interest. The same is true for Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon, which led to a permanent change in how constitutional law is applied.
But how might President Donald J. Trump influence constitutional law and the legal landscape of America? Hot-button issues like these point to a significant movement away from the left and back to the right.
President Trump has vowed to repeal Obamacare after complaints that the new Affordable Care Act is not only challenging for some people to access, but more expensive than private healthcare plans for at least a chunk of the population. The act, originally created in an effort to make healthcare more accessible and affordable to even those on a limited budget, impacts nearly 20 million Americans — ranging across an incredibly diverse subsection of society.
If the President repeals the Affordable Care Act, some people could suddenly find themselves without coverage; this includes people with pre-existing conditions, those with disabilities, seniors, and young people 26 and under who are covered under their parents’ plans.
But problems with Obamacare have been rampant all along. Some considered the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional from the beginning, while others feel that the concept is ideal, but the implementation was flawed (if not an outright failure).
Trump’s new plan would bring drug prices down and make insurance premiums more affordable across the board by tossing out the requirement to provide comprehensive coverage across all plans. If implemented correctly, it could spell a new age for Americans in terms of healthcare equality across the board.
Trump’s hard-nosed line on immigration is also one of his most contentious. Dotted with promises to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, his campaign focused heavily on reforming a system that he sees as “broken.”
Before inauguration, he swore to protect the country by significantly amending acts like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Originally signed into action by Barack Obama, DACA’s goal was to provide protection for children and adults who were undocumented, but whom had come to the country as young children.
He also promised to dismantle the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), a plan that protects undocumented parents who give birth to children on American soil.
But, is stricter immigration law, particularly as it applies to certain groups (like Muslims and Mexicans) constitutional? Some Americans believe the answer is yes. A Supreme Court case in 1982, the United States v. Valenzuela-Bernal, agrees.
“The power to regulate immigration—an attribute of sovereignty essential to the preservation of any nation—has been entrusted by the Constitution to the political branches of the Federal Government.”
That’s an umbrella that Trump himself falls under as the President , but such a decision would represent a marked shift to the right in how the Naturalization Clause is interpreted and applied. That sets a precedent that will likely become exceedingly difficult to reverse down the road.
The second amendment states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Although America remains a fairly open country with regard to gun laws, especially when compared to European countries, various forms of control over the market have existed in the country since 1986. This includes the contentious and often-debated Assault Weapons Act that makes specific guns and components illegal to buy and/or sell.
Obama’s Executive Order in 2016 significantly reduced the ease with which many Americans could access guns by requiring background checks. These background checks were intended to identify and prevent access by known criminals, individuals with mental health challenges, and known gun traffickers. It also made it necessary to track black market traffickers and illegal gun sales in whatever way possible. That being said, implementation has been less than successful.
Unfortunately, just a few short years later, it’s become startlingly clear that gun control is, at best, a lukewarm response to gun violence, and at worst, an abject failure that may even place Americans in more danger than they were in to begin with.
Trump vows to focus on making five changes to the gun industry during his presidency:
- A repeal of the law to ban silencers
- A repeal of the Assault Weapons Act
- New, more generous Concealed Carry laws
- A reduction in gun-free zones (like schools)
The President believes that these changes will bring America back to a more constitutional position with regard to firearms – i.e., the right to bear arms. After all, gun control did little to stem the flow of illegal firearms to gangs, school shooters, and other evil-doers.
Trump’s goal? To ensure that all Americans have the right and ability to defend themselves at a moment’s notice, and to provide a way for recreational gun users who are honest, hard-working citizens to access and use firearms.
Both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) stood to improve trade relations between certain countries. NAFTA was originally put into place under the Clinton presidency in 1994, while the TPP was a recent creation under the Obama administration. NAFTA’s original goal was to eliminate trade restrictions between Canada, the United States, and Mexico, allowing for easier economic growth for all three countries.
Unfortunately, the reality of NAFTA was that it led to rampant outsourcing of American jobs . A record-breaking 500,000 to 750,000 jobs — most in manufacturing — disappeared from the American market as a direct result of NAFTA’s implementation. Companies threatened – or in some cases, went ahead with – a move to Mexico, where cheaper employment made product creation price points much lower. The agreement also made special provisions for Mexican trucks to be granted access across the border. That’s something many claim has directly led to higher illegal immigration and safety concerns.
The TPP would have expanded upon NAFTA to include a robust 11 individual countries, including places like Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam, all of which offer labor and manufacturing at severely reduced rates.
Fortunately, Trump saw through the potential pitfalls and withdrew from the TPP shortly after his inauguration. Additional changes to NAFTA are not only possible, but expected, especially as Trump strives to keep jobs by Americans and for Americans.
Offshore Tax Tariffs
Donald J. Trump is serious about keeping jobs in America – serious enough that he wouldn’t even stop at repealing NAFTA and withdrawing from the TPP. In fact, the President has specifically declared that he plans to institute dramatic offshore tax tariffs on businesses that move outside of the United States — especially to countries with cheaper labor.
This falls in line with Trump’s proposed reduction in corporate taxes, a move that could potentially see more businesses remaining on home soil. His stated tariff, a tax of approximately 35 percent, would act as a strong deterrent.
Naysayers claim that such a move would potentially increase prices for Americans, especially with the cost of production in the United States compared to areas like Malaysia, China, and Japan. But supporters claim that this really isn’t true; a return to American soil should, at least theoretically, improve the American economy as a whole. More jobs on home soil should mean more money in everyone’s pockets, and higher tax revenues for the government.
Easily the most contested and potentially inflammatory issue at hand is the question of civil rights and how they are interpreted under a Trump presidency. The POTUS has previously gone on record about hot-button issues like marriage equality, LGBTQ rights, abortion, discrimination, profiling, and women’s rights.
But, despite the fact that Trump once believed that abortion and same-sex marriage were issues to which he couldn’t agree, today he sits further to the left. During his campaign, he showed support for both women’s rights and same-sex marriage at many points. His standpoint on abortion remains firm; he is staunchly pro-life. If given the opportunity, he would reverse Roe-vs-Wade and return control of abortion laws back over to the state.
Trump has also laid bare his plan to increase profiling of immigrants from countries with links to terrorism. In CBS’ Face the Nation interview, June 2016, Trump highlighted why he believes some measure of profiling is acceptable, if it’s in the country’s best interest.
“…I think profiling is something that we’re going to have to start thinking about as a country,” he began. “…I hate the concept of profiling. But we have to start using common sense, and we have to use our heads.”
In a world with weapons strong enough to take out entire cities, where terror events like 9/11 can kill or otherwise maim thousands, getting greater control of problem groups might make sense, at least at first glance. But, racially profiling American-born Muslims, Afghans, Iranians, Israelis, and other individuals identified to have a higher risk for links to terrorism may pose a problem for Trump, especially if someone decides to push forth the idea that it goes against the Fourth Amendment. So written, this amendment states that all American citizens should be free from “unreasonable search and seizure.”
What remains to be decided under a Trump administration is exactly what “unreasonable search and seizure” will look like in the future. A return to the right – where the country’s safety is the main concern – could affect the justice system for decades, especially if the country sees a far-right Supreme Court Justice assigned.
Issues surrounding Stop-and-Frisk have also arrived, and civil rights advocates press that they, too, challenge the Fourth Amendment right to avoid “unreasonable search and seizure.” However, if Trump succeeds in appointing a right-learning Supreme Court judge, the interpretation of exactly what is “unreasonable” could change.
Freedom of the Press/Freedom of Speech
Freedom of the press, or freedom to slander? This is a question Trump’s campaign and current presidency is already asking. Should the press be allowed to write anything they want, simply because Freedom of Speech/Freedom of the Press rights? Or, must they adhere to the same defamation and libel laws as everyone else?
In a time when “fake news” is becoming a source of ire for many people, readdressing freedom of the press isn’t just an option; it’s a must. If given the opportunity, he would significantly open up libel laws to allow public figures (including Trump himself and many celebrities) the opportunity to sue magazines, newspapers, and publications that print false information.
That would spell certain disaster for tabloids like The National Enquirer, The Star, and The Sun – all known for their “generous” stretching of “the truth” (read: complete lies).
But control over the press would also give the Trump administration one major benefit: an easier and freer ability to control what information is released to the press and when. In situations where media exposure could endanger the country or illogically sway a vote, this action could be beneficial.
Still, limiting Freedom of the Press is an enormous undertaking that’s not likely to succeed. Even a far-right leaning judge isn’t likely to remove the First Amendment completely. Furthermore, the president nearly always has the ability to classify or otherwise declare a media ban on subject topics – something Trump has already done in the early days of his time in the White House.
Were Trump to move forward with an actual revision to the First Amendment, it would forever change how Americans interact with one another on a business and pleasure basis. If granted, the court system would be single-handedly increasing the power many high-stakes political figures and celebrities hold against “bad press.”
It’s much too early in the presidency to say for sure if Trump will keep all of his promises throughout his presidency. What can seem like the right approach in a candidacy isn’t always the same months down the road, but Trump is shrewd; he knows when to dive in and when to dial back. Regardless, one fact is true: the new president represents a shift back from globalization to the American people in an increasingly right-wing political landscape. Citizens can look forward to lower crime, better family values, and an increased ability to protect their loved ones, both physically and within the courts.