Preventing Trump from running for office again is bad for democracy

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The unprecedented arrest and indictment of an ex-president has got many people talking about whether or not someone accused or convicted of a crime should be allowed to run for president.

In fact, it has been less than four months since Democrats introduced legislation (which has never left the House) to bar Donald Trump from returning to federal office, citing the 14th Amendment ban on office holders who had previously “participated in riots” during their tenure in the office. And that’s all Before the Manhattan indictment.

While nothing in the Constitution would prevent Trump from running on the basis of these current criminal charges, some might now be tempted to argue that this should be the case. After all, convicts are currently banned from voting in most states. Preventing people with criminal convictions from running as candidates in the democratic process may not seem like a huge leap.

Given the tremendous damage our legal and immigration systems have done as a direct result of his policies — not to mention his own well-documented weaponization of the legal system — making sure that doesn’t happen might seem like a fair or logical step repeated .

But as a professional defense attorney and a staunch advocate of reforming the criminal justice system, I think it’s important remember any self-proclaimed “progressives” or Democratic candidates who might salivate at the prospect of preventing Trump from ever running for office again that this particular tool is indeed a tool bad thing for democracy.

The right to choose for yourself what qualities or aspects of a candidate’s biography and experience should or should not be considered disqualifying is one of the most important rights guaranteed to voters by the Constitution.

Furthermore, since our criminal justice system disproportionately disenfranchises, criminalizes, and stigmatizes people of color and the poor and vulnerable, no one who genuinely works to make our society fairer and more just should do so want To exclude people who are personally affected by this system from holding public office. Your perspectives and experiences are critical to creating a better system.

“Whatever the merits of a single criminal case, the system as a whole is deeply flawed.”

— Eliza Orlins

There is also the reality that – for the vast majority of people charged with crimes in this country – a jury trial is simply not a viable option. Our current system for entering a guilty or not guilty plea is extremely stringent. Faced with the choice of pleading guilty and serving a relatively short sentence, or taking a case to court and risking serving a significant time in prison, many people are left with no choice but to plead.

That brings me to another point I think Democrats should consider this election season and beyond.

Whatever the merits of a single criminal case, the system as a whole is deeply flawed. It is irresponsible to celebrate these allegations against the former President without acknowledging them.

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The reality is that while Donald Trump is stepping in from an undeniably privileged position, the criminal justice system’s deck is fundamentally stacked against individuals charged with crimes. As a public defender, I always say that every day in criminal courts I see things that I sincerely believe would shock the average citizen — things that just don’t square with, let alone what we’re taught about our legal system , as it is portrayed in films and on television.

Even high-profile civil trials that are televised can contribute to misunderstandings about the criminal system, where the investigative process and the restrictions on what evidence can and cannot be brought to trial are very different from the civil system.

Nuance is important here. Yes, in my 13 years as a public defender representing people in the same court, I have never had a client given so much time before having to return to his next personal appearance. Most of my clients have to repeatedly go to court leading up to their trial, which forces them to grapple with challenges such as childcare arrangements and elderly parents.


Former US President Donald Trump makes a remark on the day of his court appearance in New York after he was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury after hush money to the porn star on April 4, 2023 in Palm Beach, Florida, USA Stormy Daniels had been paid .

REUTERS/Marco Bello

At the same time, the security and logistical concerns associated with a personal court appearance by the former president are significant — and every time he does appear, hearings in other cases and court proceedings are inevitably delayed or postponed, leading to people like my clients needing more spend time in prison or wait even longer for solutions to their cases.

I hope we can all agree that while the need for special attention to detail is important in such a closely scrutinized case, it is also true that the current trial – which decides the fate of people – their lives and liberty are at stake are at stake – is unfortunately not enough. Both things can be true at the same time.

It is possible to understand that while acknowledging that Trump or his attorneys at various points in this process argue that certain aspects of this system are unfair, they will be right.

And it’s also important to remember that this is still the exception, not the rule, although a wealthy, powerful person may ultimately be held accountable in this particular case.

Rather than being held up as proof that “no one is above the law,” this case should serve as a reminder that real change in this system is long overdue.

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