To the Editor:
“The most important public office is that of private citizen,” said Louis Brandeis, the leading spokesperson in the early 20th century for the protection and advancement of our constitutional democracy. It was Brandeis’ insights and inspiration that caused us, two veteran lawyers who have practiced law collectively for more than a century, to consider how we might together address the political crisis created by the actions and statements of President Donald Trump.
During our lifetimes, the United States has been governed by 14 successive presidents. None of those predecessors of President Trump has acted and spoken as disrespectfully of our Constitution and laws, and the rule of law itself, as he has.
We hold no political office, but are simply two of Brandeis’s “private citizens.” We know that the First Amendment of the Constitution declares that “Congress shall make no
law … abridging … the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This generally neglected right predates the Constitution, and in fact, dates back as far as the 1215 Magna Carta in England. But how can we together easily and effectively seek such redress? We believe we found an answer.
In July, we drafted and posted on the Internet a “Petition for Redress of Grievances Seeking Congressional Censure of Donald Trump.” Censure is a traditional Congressional remedy whereby the Senate and House of Representatives have disciplined, condemned, and admonished presidents, senators, and House members by a simple majority for misconduct
throughout our nation’s history. In 1834, Andrew Jackson, President Trump’s favorite president,
was censured by the Senate for removing deposits from the Bank of the United States and refusing to give them to Congress. In 1954, the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured by the Senate for bringing that body into “dishonor and disrepute.”
Among the grounds for censure recited in our petition are the following:
- Firing FBI Director James Comey for his refusal to terminate both the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the bureau’s investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn;
- Disgracing the Office of President by repeatedly and knowingly lying to the press and public and making numerous false accusations;
- Withdrawing from the Paris climate accords;
- Refusing to release his income tax returns;
- Defending the improper effort by his son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman to obtain damaging information from Russian sources about Hillary Clinton;
- Continuing to receive profits and emoluments from foreign governments in violation of Article 1, Section 10, of the Constitution.
Before our petition is filed with Congress, we will supplement it with later occurring matters, such as Trump’s defending white supremacists in Charlottesville as “very fine people.”
Since its posting, tens of thousands of our fellow citizens have signed and distributed our petition. Among them are Professor Richard Painter, who was chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush between 2005 and 2007; Ruth Messinger, former Manhattan borough president; and lawyer, novelist, and political commentator Richard North Patterson.
We intend to serve our petition on every member of the House and Senate, seeking a congressional resolution censuring President Trump. By circulating our petition, we hope to educate the public about the extent of Trump’s wrongdoing, and inform it of its constitutionally protected right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the congressional remedy of censure. Whether or not Congress eventually begins the lengthy process of impeachment, censure is a prompt and straightforward method for exposing Trump’s misdeeds, and publicly and officially condemning him for committing them. We respectfully request that readers join us in our effort.
Some have said that censure is merely a “slap on the wrist,” and that impeachment is the only appropriate remedy for the wrongdoing of President Trump. To this we respond that while there may be several additional remedies, at the moment petitioning for censure provides an immediate, constitutionally protected means of public condemnation and reproach of President Trump. It should be supported and employed promptly.
The full text of our petition is available for viewing, signing, and forwarding at censuredonaldtrump.com.
Jules Bernstein and Michael Cooper
Jules Bernstein is a member of Bernstein & Lipsett, a Washington, D.C., labor law firm. Michael Cooper is a retired New York City lawyer and former president of the New York City Bar Association. —Ed.