The fight for political rights is at the center of U.S. politics

By Terry Evans
February 19, 2024

Freedom of speech, assembly and worship and other rights working people need and use were won as a result of revolutionary struggles — the War of Independence, the Second American Revolution that overturned slavery and in many class battles since then, including the powerful mass working-class movement that tore down Jim Crow segregation in the 1950s and ’60s.

The Bill of Rights, the Reconstruction-era 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, and other constitutional freedoms were adopted in the course of struggles by the toiling population. They provide protections against government interference with personal beliefs, political activity and union-organizing that workers use today.

Whenever workers strike for better wages or fight dangerous working conditions and life-draining schedules we use these freedoms. They’re utilized when workers organize union solidarity, join actions opposing Jew-hatred or oppose Washington’s wars abroad. These freedoms are needed more than ever as the economic, social and moral crises of capitalism deepen today, making more workers open to discussing why we need to act independently of the bosses and their two main parties, the Democrats and Republicans.

Defense of constitutional protections is a key part of the course presented by Socialist Workers Party candidates in 2024, as they join in the fight to unify the working class in action and present a road to fight for workers to take political power into our own hands.

At the same time that constitutional rights are increasingly needed, the capitalist rulers are determined to find ways to attack them. The biggest challenge to our rights comes from the Democratic Party, working with its allies in the liberal media and middle-class “socialists,” and the FBI — the rulers’ political police. At the urging of Joseph Biden’s White House, Democratic Party prosecutors, aided by partisan FBI snoops, are generating frame-up criminal charges to try to prevent Donald Trump from running for president or to railroad him to prison. Their aim is to ruin his businesses, get him thrown off the ballot and deny tens of millions the right to vote for whichever candidate they choose.

On Feb. 8 the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing Trump’s appeal against the Colorado high court’s decision to throw him off the Republican Party primary ballot, claiming he “engaged in an insurrection” on Jan. 6, 2021. They say a clause in the 14th Amendment, barring Confederate secessionists from serving in office, extends to Trump.

But the former president hasn’t been convicted of “engaging in insurrection,” let alone faced a trial where he could defend himself. Similar lawsuits demanding Trump’s removal from the ballot are pending in several other states.

Voters, not judges  choose our President,” Terpsehore Maras wrote in a court brief signed by 3,000 voters backing Trump’s appeal. “Neither the Constitution, Congress, nor the American people ever granted a state court the power to potentially exclude a Presidential candidate based simply on its interpretation of that candidate’s prior conduct.”

“Can one ‘engage in’ an insurrection by doing nothing?” asks another friend-of-the-court brief by Condemned USA. It points to Trump’s urging a peaceful protest at the Capitol Jan. 6.

A brief submitted Jan. 18 this year by the Kansas Republican Party and 32 other state Republican Party organizations points to a ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court in 1982 in Socialist Workers Party v. Secretary of State. “The rights of individuals to associate for the advancement of political beliefs and of qualified voters to cast their votes effectively are basic to effective political expression,” the Michigan judges wrote.

The successful lawsuit filed by the SWP overturned an onerous 1976 law requiring “minor parties” there to gather over 18,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot and get at least 5,000 votes before they could get on the general election ballot. That law violated the First and 14th Amendments, the Michigan justices ruled.

SWP wins fight against FBI

The SWP’s victory there came in the middle of the party’s ground-breaking political and legal fight against spying and dirty tricks by the FBI.

The lawsuit was filed in 1973 and the SWP mobilized far-reaching opposition to the unconstitutional Cointelpro disruption program and other assaults by the government on the party’s rights and those of other organizations over decades. In 1986 Judge Thomas Griesa ruled the FBI had broken the law and barred it from using informers to spy on SWP members and other working-class militants; that burglaries and wiretaps by the FBI violated constitutional protections from unreasonable search and seizure; and that the government’s efforts to disrupt SWP activity by government spies were illegal.

The government fought against the SWP case under Republican and Democratic presidents — from Richard Nixon to Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan.

The victory won by the SWP carved out political space not just for the party, but for all working people to speak, act and organize, on the picket line, in the streets and in the electoral arena.

The Department of Justice and FBI tried to justify decades of spying on the SWP by claiming it was necessary to protect “national security.”

That pretext is also at the center of the charges brought against Trump under the Espionage Act by Jack Smith, the Department of Justice special counsel. Trump is accused of keeping a few dozen classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida when he left office.

Smith is trying to get Judge Aileen Cannon to impose limits on the access Trump’s lawyers have to evidence that Smith will use in the trial. Smith says the evidence should be kept secret because it’s “classified.” But ever since the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago, the Department of Justice has been selectively leaking material the FBI seized to try to convict Trump in the court of public opinion before the trial starts. It’s assaulting his legal rights and his right to be presumed innocent unless he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

In the government’s latest assault on Trump’s rights, Smith’s office told ABC News Feb. 1 that it has questioned witnesses about an alleged “hidden room” at Mar-a-Lago that the FBI raiders did not find, where Trump may be holding more “classified” materials.

Trump’s lawyers submitted a motion Jan. 16, saying that evidence made available to them so far shows that Smith cooked up the espionage case in collusion with the White House, the FBI and officials of the National Archives and Records Administration. Trump’s lawyers are asking Judge Cannon to force Smith to turn over his communications with the Biden administration about this.

The case is just one of several trials Trump faces during the election campaign as Democrats try to use the courts to keep him from the White House.

Regardless of what anyone thinks about Trump or Biden, all these legal attacks on the former president endanger hard-won constitutional freedoms that workers and our unions have a vital interest in safeguarding. The charges should be thrown out.