Frontal assaults on free speech are being carried out through a barrage of court cases driven by the Joseph Biden Justice Department seeking to imprison former President Donald Trump and crush his 2024 presidential run.
Gag orders on the former president undermine his legal defense, muzzle what he can say during the campaign and lay the groundwork for pliant judges to jail him, disenfranchising the tens of millions who want to vote for him. When the rights of a capitalist politician like Trump are trampled on, it’s inevitable the same and worse will be done to the working class.
New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron has fined Trump twice already, during the former president’s trial on charges of overestimating the value of his properties. Democrat New York Attorney General Letitia James is using the case to try to ruin Trump and prevent him from operating any business in the state.
Violating the constitutional right to confront your accusers in a trial, Engoron found Trump guilty in summary judgment before the trial began. The largest fine was imposed after Trump said that Engoron, who is a Democrat, is “a very partisan judge, with a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside of him.” Engoron claims those remarks were a threat against his law clerk. In fact, when Trump was called to the stand to explain his remarks, he said he was referring to Michael Cohen, who was on the witness stand. Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, is now a prominent and “very partisan” prosecution witness against him.
The heart of Biden’s reelection strategy is railing at Trump and his “semi-fascist” supporters. Jack Smith is the special prosecutor the Justice Department has tasked with bringing down Trump. At Smith’s urging, District of Columbia Judge Tanya Chutkan lifted a temporary stay on a gag order she imposed on Trump during his trial for so-called election interference.
“Trump is a criminal defendant,” Chutkan said. “First Amendment freedoms do not allow him to launch a pretrial smear campaign against participating government staff.” In fact a presidential candidate has a right to say what he thinks about government staff. People have a right to hear him.
Before the trial has even begun, the judge’s gag order and “smear campaign” accusation are designed to undercut Trump’s right to a fair hearing.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union — a staunch anti-Trump group — found this gag order too much. They filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the order be thrown out. It says, “Trump retains a First Amendment right to speak, and the rest of us retain a right to hear what he has to say.”
“If we allow his free speech rights to be abridged,” it adds, “we know that other unpopular voices — even ones we agree with — will also be silenced.”
It also says the Constitution protects “the defendant’s right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment, a right the government does not have.”
To strengthen his push to ban Trump from speaking out, Smith cites Trump’s Oct. 24 comments about Mark Meadows, his former White House chief of staff. Meadows had just taken a plea deal in another prosecution against Trump, in Georgia.
“If you say BAD THINGS about that ‘MONSTER’ DONALD J. TRUMP, we won’t put you in prison,” Trump wrote. “Some people would make that deal but they are weaklings and cowards. … I don’t think that Mark Meadows is one of them. But who really knows?”
Smith claims this is witness intimidation. He also argues Trump “does not need to explicitly incite harassment or violence” for the court to gag him!
Long history of gag laws against communists
Attempts by the Democratic and Republican parties to silence political opponents are nothing new. In 1940, on the eve of Washington’s entry into the second imperialist world war, Congress adopted the Smith “Gag” Act, which makes advocating the revolutionary overthrow of the government a federal crime.
President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration first use of the law was to railroad to prison 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and the Teamsters union in the Midwest. The SWP had the temerity to explain the only means to end imperialist war was to replace capitalist rule with workers power. In 1949, 11 leaders of the Communist Party were convicted under the Smith Act. The SWP opposed the CP members’ conviction, calling for the law to be abolished.
By 1957 some 140 U.S. communists and unionists had been arrested under the Smith Act. Although the law has not been used since 1961, it remains on the books, ready for use to attack the rights of new generations of working-class fighters.
Unequivocally opposing the Biden administration’s attacks on free speech and other rights is crucial to safeguard protection workers need whenever our unions go on strike, or we organize opposition to the capitalist rulers’ wars, or take steps toward a break with their two parties — the Democrats and Republicans — and fight for working people to take political power into our own hands.