Jeff Sessions cited a Bible passage used by American slaveholders to defend Trump’s family separation policy

It’s rarely been used since the Civil War.

By Emily Stewart, vox.com,

Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the Trump administration’s family separation policy for asylum seekers by invoking a controversial passage in the Bible that’s rarely been cited since the Civil War because it was used by Southerners to defend slavery.

This is what Sessions said at a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Thursday, according to NBC News:

Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.

The historical context spread across Twitter. Yoni Appelbaum, a historian and editor at the Atlantic, showed the passage was cited during key moments in the American debate over slavery:

The Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer and Keith McMillan spoke with experts for a piece that ran Friday morning and concluded that Sessions’s decision to cite Romans 13 is an unusual one, given how the passage has been used historically.

“This is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made,” John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, told the Post.

Abolitionists argued that slavery was unconscionably cruel and pointed, specifically, to separating families as a violation of religious principles, Appelbaum explained. Slavery defenders said the duty to abide by law was part of the Bible and specifically cited Romans 13. Abolitionists, ultimately, won the argument over slavery.

Fea told the Post that after the Civil War, there haven’t been as many references to Romans 13 because the passage’s message about submitting to authority is regarded as un-American. “Whenever Romans 13 was used in the 18th and 19th century — and Sessions seems to be doing the same thing, so in this sense there is some continuity — it’s a way of manipulating the scriptures to justify your own political agenda,” Fea said.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the same “the Bible says follow the law” argument on Thursday

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday was asked about Sessions’s invocation of the Bible to defend the administration’s family separation policy. She said she wasn’t “aware” of the attorney general’s specific comments but sided with him on the Bible part.

“I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law,” Sanders said. “That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”

When CNN’s Jim Acosta asked whether she believes the practice is moral, Sanders replied, “It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.”

President Donald Trump in a surprise appearance on Fox & Friends on Friday defended the policy as well, but he didn’t mention the Bible. “That’s the law,” he said.

Family separation isn’t the law

The Trump administration has recently implemented a policy of separating children from their parents as they attempt to enter the United States seeking asylum at the US border. They’re typically splitting up families by charging parents with illegal entry into the US and sending them into criminal custody and treating their children as if they were “unaccompanied alien children” who had tried to enter the United States alone.

The policy has sent shock waves across the country, igniting outrage on the part of immigration advocates, human rights groups, and citizens across the political spectrum. Multiple reports of uniquely aggressive or inhumane treatment have added fuel to the fire, including a Honduran man who died by suicide less than a day after being separated from his wife and 3-year-old child by Border Patrol agents, and a Honduran woman who says officials took her daughter away while she was breastfeeding her in a detention center.

The White House is arguing that what it’s doing is just what the legal code says. “We’re a country of law and order, and we’re enforcing the law and protecting our borders,” Sanders said.

Except that’s not the case. As Vox’s Dara Lind points out, there is no law that requires immigrant families to be separated:

The decision to charge everyone crossing the border with illegal entry — and the decision to charge asylum seekers in criminal court rather than waiting to see if they qualify for asylum — are both decisions the Trump administration has made.

Other administration officials back up Trump by pointing to the laws that give extra protections to families, unaccompanied children, and asylum seekers. The administration has been asking Congress to change these laws since it came into office, and has blamed them for stopping Trump from securing the border the way he’d like. (Those aren’t “Democratic laws” either; the law addressing unaccompanied children was passed overwhelmingly in 2008 and signed by George W. Bush, while the restriction on detaining families is a result of federal litigation.)

In that context, the law isn’t forcing Trump to separate families; it’s keeping Trump from doing what he’d perhaps really like to do, which is simply sending families back or keeping them in detention together, and so he has had to resort to plan B.

Romans 13 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Fulfilling the Law Through Love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV)® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Fulfilling the Law Through Love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV). ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Submission to the Authorities

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Fulfilling the Law Through Love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law….

 

The Lawless Presidency

By David Leonhardt, New York Times, June 6, 2017

Excerpt – Democracy isn’t possible without the rule of law — the idea that consistent principles, rather than a ruler’s whims, govern society…. Even amid bitter fights over what the law should say, both Democrats and Republicans have generally accepted the rule of law. President Trump does not. His rejection of it distinguishes him from any other modern American leader…Trump’s view of the law, quite simply, violates American traditions. The behavior has no precedent. “Trump and his administration are flagrantly violating ethics laws,” the former top ethics advisers to George W. Bush and Barack Obama have written. Their attitude is clear: If we’re doing it, it’s O.K.

Full text

Democracy isn’t possible without the rule of law — the idea that consistent principles, rather than a ruler’s whims, govern society.

You can read Aristotle, Montesquieu, John Locke or the Declaration of Independence on this point. You can also look at decades of American history. Even amid bitter fights over what the law should say, both Democrats and Republicans have generally accepted the rule of law.

President Trump does not. His rejection of it distinguishes him from any other modern American leader. He has instead flirted with Louis XIV’s notion of “L’état, c’est moi”: The state is me — and I’ll decide which laws to follow.

This attitude returns to the fore this week, with James Comey scheduled to testify on Thursday about Trump’s attempts to stifle an F.B.I. investigation. I realize that many people are exhausted by Trump outrages, some of which resemble mere buffoonery. But I think it’s important to step back and connect the dots among his many rejections of the rule of law.

They are a pattern of his presidency, one that the judicial system, Congress, civic institutions and principled members of Trump’s own administration need to resist. Trump’s view of the law, quite simply, violates American traditions.

Trump has erased this distinction.

He pressured Comey to drop the investigation of Trump’s campaign and fired Comey when he refused. Trump has called for specific prosecutions, first of Hillary Clinton and more recently of leakers.

The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is part of the problem. He is supposed to be the nation’s head law-enforcement official, but acts as a Trump loyalist. He recently held a briefing in the White House press room — “a jaw-dropping violation of norms,” as Slate’s Leon Neyfakh wrote. Sessions has proclaimed, “This is the Trump era.”

Like Trump, he sees little distinction between the enforcement of the law and the interests of the president.

COURTS, UNDERMINED. Past administrations have respected the judiciary as having the final word on the law. Trump has tried to delegitimize almost any judge who disagrees with him.

His latest Twitter tantrum, on Monday, took a swipe at “the courts” over his stymied travel ban.

Let’s walk through the major themes:

LAW ENFORCEMENT, POLITICIZED. People in federal law enforcement take pride in trying to remain apart from politics. I’ve been talking lately with past Justice Department appointees, from both parties, and they speak in almost identical terms.

They view the Justice Department as more independent than, say, the State or Treasury Departments. The Justice Department works with the rest of the administration on policy matters, but keeps its distance on law enforcement. That’s why White House officials aren’t supposed to pick up the phone and call whomever they want at the department. There is a careful process.

It joined a long list of his judge insults: “this so-called judge”; “a single, unelected district judge”; “ridiculous”; “so political”; “terrible”; “a hater of Donald Trump”; “essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country”; “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

“What’s unusual is he’s essentially challenging the legitimacy of the court’s role,” the legal scholar Charles Geyh told The Washington Post. Trump’s message, Geyh said, was: “I should be able to do what I choose.”

TEAM TRUMP, ABOVE THE LAW. Foreign governments speed up trademark applications from Trump businesses. Foreign officials curry favor by staying at his hotel. A senior administration official urges people to buy Ivanka Trump’s clothing. The president violates bipartisan tradition by refusing to release his tax returns, thus shrouding his conflicts.

The behavior has no precedent. “Trump and his administration are flagrantly violating ethics laws,” the former top ethics advisers to George W. Bush and Barack Obama have written.

Again, the problems extend beyond the Trump family. Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, has used political office to enrich himself. Sessions failed to disclose previous meetings with Russian officials.

Their attitude is clear: If we’re doing it, it’s O.K.

Long Before McCutcheon, Conservatives Invested in Pushing Our Legal Culture Rightward

by Joshua Holland, Bill Moyers.com April 11, 2014

Steven Teles is an associate professor in the political science department at Johns Hopkins University

Forty years before the Roberts Supreme Court became a place where the Chamber of Commerce almost always wins, conservative donors made a significant, long-term investment in pushing the center of gravity in America’s legal culture toward the right.

In 2009, Steven Teles, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, literally wrote the book on that effort. In The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law, Teles charted the early stumbles and later successes of a project that ultimately has yielded hefty returns to its backers.

In the wake of the court’s latest decision on behalf of America’s donor class, McCutcheon v. FEC, BillMoyers.com spoke with Teles about this history. Below is a transcript of our discussion that’s been edited for clarity.

Joshua Holland: The story you tell in this book really begins in the 1970s. There’s a well-funded effort to shift the ideological center of gravity in law schools, legal conferences and journals, and ultimately, in the courts themselves. How successful has that effort been?

Steven Teles: I think they were very successful in helping to reorient the political conversation. In today’s legal culture, conservative arguments aren’t exotic. People have heard of them. Liberals show up to Federalist Society events. The Federalist Society has always had a kind of evangelical quality. They always wanted to try, if not to persuade people, then at least make them think that their views were within the range of legitimate conversation. And I think in that sense they have been successful.

Over long periods of time it has shifted the range of ideas about what  the courts can do. And I think in contrast, liberals have not been very good at that kind of investment. Liberals have been much more oriented towards short-term investments. They want metrics to show how things are paying off in two or three years. But if you really want to shift people’s ideas, that’s the work of decades, and that’s the kind of thing that a group of conservative foundations was willing to do.

When you see how aggressive this Supreme Court has often been, that’s partially because it’s staffed by clerks who’ve been to law schools like Harvard and Yale and Stanford, where they have strong Federalist Society chapters and they’ve gotten steeped in these ideas, and when they get onto the courts they provide these ideas to the justices. They’re helping write the decisions.

Liberals have not been good at that kind of work, and if they want to change some of these things, then they have to be willing to put their money into the same kind of really long-term investments.

Holland: What was it about our judiciary, or our judicial culture, that the right felt needed to be changed?

Teles: I think it’s important that we distinguish between the ‘judiciary’ and ‘judicial culture.’ In the book, I establish that conservatives were reacting as much to the law schools as to what was going on directly in the courts.

The story starts even earlier, back in the late ’50s and early ’60s when law school faculties became much more liberal, and started supporting legal rights of all kinds, and it’s that legal culture to which I think conservatives were reacting.

It’s also important to distinguish between what I think of as the elite reaction and the popular reaction. The popular reaction goes back to a series of church and state decisions that helped mobilize the Christian right. That’s an important part of the story.

And then what I write about in the book — things like the development of the Federalist Society, the law and economics movement and the rise of conservative public interest law — is really a reaction to this change in the elite legal culture. That’s an elite mobilization, and that’s what I write about in the book.

This mobilization didn’t come out of nowhere. The Ford Foundation and some other foundations had put enormous amounts of money into investing in legal clinics and public-interest law firms — a lot of the ones that we know and love today: the Environmental Defense Fund, National Resources Defense Council, the organizations of Hispanics and women in law.

So conservatives reacted by investing tens of millions of dollars to mobilize against these efforts. Lots of money was put into law and economics, which was an effort to try to get a foothold for free market economics in the law schools. The Federalist Society was created, which was an effort to create a kind of parallel curriculum in the law schools. Conservatives found it so hard to directly change the composition of the law schools, so their strategy was to bring their own faculty in to give talks and lectures to the students. And then there was an investment in public interest law firms on the right, like the Institute for Justice, Alliance for School Choice, and the Center for Individual Rights, which brought a lot of anti-affirmative action litigation. There was a broad attempt to mobilize against organized legal liberalism on all of these fronts.

Holland: Legal scholars and journalists covering the judiciary say that this Court is making decisions that would have been difficult to imagine not so long ago. There have also been a couple of studies that have found that conservative justices are more likely to overturn both acts of Congress and regulatory rules than their moderate and liberal counterparts.

That kind of judicial activism is in contrast to what a lot of people would think judicial conservatism means. One would think it would stress respect for past precedent and judicial restraint — conservatism. How do you reconcile that?

Teles: Well, first of all, conservatives were arguably very activist going back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries – that’s the Court we associate with the “Lochner Era.” And back then it was liberals who advocated judicial restraint. The whole New Deal was characterized by an argument for judicial restraint.

The era of conservatives preaching judicial restraint, starting in the ’60s and ’70s, began when they picked up liberal arguments at a time when liberals had started abandoning them. So it’s not surprising that in a period where liberals are starting to be activists, conservatives are arguing for judicial restraint. Then conservatives consolidate their power starting in the ’80s and ’90s, and they then start becoming activists in their use of the Courts.

So the political scientist in me thinks that this is a predictable feature of what ascendant political movements do – they generally are in favor of judicial activism as soon as they’ve consolidated their power over the Court.

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.

http://billmoyers.com/2014/04/11/long-before-mccutcheon-conservatives-invested-in-pushing-our-legal-culture-rightward/