Trump’s claim that he would jail Hillary Clinton if elected president was shocking—and rightfully so. But left largely unnoticed was his attack on the Sixth Amendment, or the right of defendants to receive a fair trial with “the assurance of counsel.”
During Sunday’s presidential town hall forum, Trump railed against Clinton for having represented an accused rapist while practicing law in Arkansas back in 1975, even bringing the woman, who was a minor at the time she was raped, to the debate and a press conference as evidence that Clinton, and not Trump, is the true enemy of women.
The fact that Clinton represented a man accused of rape is no secret. Clinton wrote about it herself in her book “Living History.” But many conservatives have seized on that case to argue that Clinton is the true abuser of women, most recently as they try to run interference for Trump after the release of a 2005 recording of him bragging about sexually assaulting women.
Clinton reluctantly represented the accused rapist after receiving a request from the judge. The case was ultimately resolved when the defendant pled guilty to a substantially reduced charge.
Those who assail Clinton for representing an accused criminal seem to be under the impression that anyone accused of any crime should be automatically found guilty, doing away with that pesky need for a trial in which the accused is presumed innocent and has a right to legal counsel.
Yes, even people accused of crimes as vile as rape should have their day in court and a zealous defense, no matter how guilty they appear.
Clinton isn’t the only one who’s faced political criticism for doing her job as a lawyer representing an unsavory client.
The Republican National Committee recently came out with an ad attacking Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine for defending people on death row. Two years earlier, the Republican Governors Association launched similar ads against a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in South Carolina, accusing him of protecting “criminals, not us.” Earlier this year, a conservative group rallied against a federal judge who was a potential Supreme Court nominee by citing her work as a public defender.
Such attacks undermine our legal system and the Constitution.
We can only imagine the negative advertisements that these groups would have created to assail John Adams, who successfully defended several British soldiers implicated in the Boston Massacre, or Abraham Lincoln, who successfully represented accused murderers.
But as in other instances, this patent hostility to a bedrock constitutional principle mainly comes from one party—the party that has nominated a man who campaigned on restricting religious liberties and the freedom of the press; a man who to this day continues to smear the Central Park Five; a man who supports breaking treaties, committing war crimes and using torture “even if it doesn’t work“; and a man who lamented that the suspect in the recent New York bombing case would receive medical treatment and legal counsel after being arrested. And it’s the same party that is keeping a Supreme Court seat vacant in hopes that this man will fill the vacancy.
While Trump’s attacks on core American values are disgraceful, he is sadly not alone in them.