Anthony D. Romero - How the ACLU Is Taking On the Trump Administration - Extended Interview

January 31, 2017 - Anthony D. Romero 01/31/2017 Views: 57,887

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero describes how he contested President Trump's Muslim-targeted travel ban and talks about continuing to fight the administration. (11:00)

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Please welcome Anthony Romero.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

Hello, Trevor.

-Honest question. Hello,Anthony. -Yeah. Hello, sir.

Did you ever think, as a lawyer,

one day peoplewould be cheering for you

-when you walked into a room?-No. No.

-(cheering)-Thank you. Thank you very much.

Welcome to the show,and thank you for coming

at what is probablythe craziest time

-in history?-Craziest time. Yeah.

I've been around this blockabout 16 years--

I've never felt anythingquite like this.

What does...what does it feel like

to have all of theseexecutive orders coming out,

and to be an organizationthat is fighting for...

or against, rather,the, you know,

the-the constitutional loopholes

-that Trump and his peopleare trying to find? -Yeah.

It's a bit breathless, but it'sexhilarating at the same time.

And this presidentis going down such a far,

wrong-headed path.

I mean, these executive orders,they really are off the charts.

-And this most recent onewith the Muslim ban, -Yeah.

is just... it is justastonishing that we would have

a president of the United Statesenact an order

within a weekof him becoming president

that is so fundamentallyat the core un-American,

immoral, unconstitutional.

-(applause, whooping, cheering)-Now... now, first of all...

I-I mean, I'm sure you'rekeeping abreast of everything,

but now the administrationhas come out and said

-it's not a Muslim ban.-But who are they kidding?

-(laughter)-Who are they kidding?

-Well, not you, clearly.-That's seven countries,

predominantly Muslims.

-Yeah. -And then the...the real smoking gun

is that in the executive orderthey carved out an exception

-Yes.-for minority religions.

And, then, President Trumpis doing contemporaneous talks

on radio... on radio,Christian broadcast radio,

saying that we wantto protect the Christians.

Who are they kidding?Of course it's a Muslim ban.

I mean,he's the straight talker--

just tell it to us straight.You promised us a Muslim ban,

you've given us a Muslim ban,we read it as a Muslim ban,

and now you say,"Oh, it's not a Muslim ban"?

-I mean, come on.-It's funny that you say this.

You know, people will be like,"Oh, but you're the ACLU--

of course you'regonna go against Trump."

But the judges ruledthe same thing.

I-I would love to know this.

-Yeah. -Saturday comes.Friday night the ban happens.

Yeah. And we never expected thisstuff to happen the next day.

-There was... You just... -Well,we saw the executive order.

-Yeah. -We had compared it.We thought they would just

-implement it at some point.-Uh-huh.

We thought anyonewho had been given a visa,

who had a work authorizationor a green card

would just be allowedinto the country.

-They had been allowed inafter all. -Yes.

Saturday morning, I'm takingdown my Christmas tree.

I finally get around to it.

I'm watching the news, and thenmy phone starts going crazy.

People are being turned awayat airports.

And I'm like, "Oh, no.How is this happening?"

And we rush peopleto the airports.

We are in touch withother or-organizations

-who are helping usidentify refugees. -Yeah.

They're turning people away

who had been given visasto enter this country.

And so then it'sall hands on deck.

Then we send out lawyersto the airports,

at JFK, at SFO, LAX,O'Hare.

When we hear the stories of, um,

of some of the customs officialsand immigration officials

going against the judge'sorders, though, I mean,

that's-that's-that's a s--I mean, a step that--

Is that normal? Is thatthem going against--

-'Cause the judge ruled...-On Saturday night.

-that there should be a stay,correct? -Yeah.

-On Saturday night at 8:00 p.m.,-Yes.

we were in front of her in thisemergency hearing.

She understood that the equitiesinvolved were too great.

She understood that peoplewere being deported

-back to countries where theywere in harm's way. -Yes.

There were individualsbeing deported back,

after helping our government

fight the war againstISIS and terrorists.

Individuals who had workedfor our government,

our client was someone who hadworked with the U.S. military

for ten years as a translator,

and they were gonna send himback on an airplane.

And the judge understood thatand said, "No, wait a minute.

"We're gonna hitthe pause button.

"I want to consider thislonger term,

but for now we're gonna preservethe status quo."

And what did, what did theopposition lawyer say?

I'm fascinated as to howthey were trying to defend this.

I understand what Trump andhis people are saying,

-but what are they saying?-Well, it was pretty remarkable.

I was in the courtroom.It was Saturday night.

After taking downthe Christmas tree,

doing a couple of TV shows,

I went to the courthousein Brooklyn.

The government lawyers werecaught completely,

-you know, empty-handed.-Yeah.

They didn't even knowhow to argue

the statementsfor the government.

The judge would askvery basic questions.

Well, how many peopleare you not allowing out?

We don't know, Your Honor.

Well, how are you enforcingthe executive order?

They would all look at eachother and say,

"Are you gonna takethat question?"

Then there was some womanon some ca-- calling in

from Washington, who was reallythe voice of the government.

She was like the voice of God,

and-and she was incapable

of answeringthe most basic questions.

And you could see the judgewas saying,

"Well, we're just gonna preservethe status quo.

"We're not gonna deport anyone.

"We're not gonna send them backto the countries

-"where they're in danger.-Yeah.

"We're gonna preservethe status quo,

"and then we're gonna lookat this afresh,

the constitutionality of itin several weeks' time."

Let's talk a little bit aboutyour journey personally.

Seven days before 9/11

you took over at the ACLU.

I was a young boy, 35.I'm 51.

Seven days before 9/11,

and then post 9/11,

America saw a spate

-of orders coming down.-Yeah.

-You know, the NSA.-Yeah.

-You know, the Patriot Act.-The Patriot Act, right.

Do you see any parallels between

what was happening then

and what people are seeing now

under the Trump administrationwithout an inciting incident?

I do see the difference.

I see the similaritiesand the differences.

I see the similarities in whichwe have government officials

who are using a moment, 9/11,

-or using their power today,-Yeah.

to push throughan ideological agenda

that really runs contraryto our nation's founding values.

That we're a nationof immigrants,

that we believe in due process,

we believe that you're innocenttill proven guilty.

And all those efforts wereat play after 9/11.

The thing that's differentabout this moment,

why I'm so encouraged, isbecause the reaction of people,

like, in your audience,and people on the streets,

is really quite different

-than the immediate aftermathof 9/11. -Interesting.

There were not people turningout on the streets.

(cheering and applause)

That's powerful.

In fact...

In fact, I mean, it's weirdto say this,

but Trump has been goodfor business for you,

-because over the weekend,-(laughter)

is it true that you raised$24 million?

Whereas in a normal yearthe ACLU...

(cheering and applause)

-...raises about $4 millionto... -Online, online.


The response was incredible.

I mean, folks came to us.And folks come to us

-because they understandwhat's at stake. -Yes.

People turn out. I mean, whenI came out of the courthouse,

there were almost a thousandpeople outside the courthouse.

I've never seen anythinglike that.

I've been to a lotof courthouses.

Usually I just walk out,and I try to find my way home.

I come out, and I'm like,"Who are these...?

-Who...? How did you get here?"-Yeah.

And they're chanting "ACLU!"

I'm like, "I don't think we havethis many staff members."

-(laughter)-And what's so remarkable now

-is that people understandwhat's at stake. -Yes.

They're willing to take action.

They're willingto associate themselves

with organizations like ours

that are gonna fightthe good fight.

And that's what's differentabout this time.

President Trump may tryto push unconstitutional

and wrong-headedand immoral executive orders,

but the courts are there,

and more importantly, the peopleare there in the streets.

-That is powerful. That ispowerful. -(applause & cheering)

I just have...I have have...

You know, one thingthat's been bugging me is,

when you readthrough U.S. history,

and you try and figure outthe constitutionality of it,

it's so hard, because everythingis up for interpretation.

-Yeah. -Do you believethat the courts will rule

that this orderis unconstitutional,

-considering that in 1952...-Yup.

...the presidentwas given the ability

-to ban peoplefrom certain areas... -Yeah.

-...if they felt they werea threat to the country? -And

to be clear, the president isusually given great discretion

-in matters of immigration.-Yes.

But I also think that our courtsare strong enough

and our country's comea long way

since 1952, 1965,even the seventies.

And with this order isso patently unconstitutional.

You know, and the idea thatthey've picked seven countries

-that are predominantly Muslim.-Yes.

That they're gonna protectChristians from those countries,

but not the Muslims.

The fact that they...goes right in the face

of due process,equal protection clauses.

It violatesthe First Amendment.

The First Amendmentis like hallowed ground

for constitutional lawyers.

-Mm-hmm.-It basically says,

the governmentshall not discriminate against

nor favor any one religion.

That's what non-establishmentand "free exercise" means.

-(applause and cheering)-It's a...

It's a journey that I guess,like you're saying,

no one has been on before. I...

And the reason whythe bodies matter

is that we're still the Davidto the government's Goliath.

There are 19,000 lawyers

on the payrollfor the U.S. Federal Government.

There are 11,000 lawyerswho will work for Jeff Sessions.

I got 300.

And the reason why the supportfrom the public is so important

is that we need to scale up,we need to up our game.

We need to hire as manygood-minded men and women

across this countryto sue them as often...

-MAN: Yeah! vigorously...-(applause and cheering)

-You're we can.

You're serious.

It's like the longest episodeof Law & Order ever.

-I'm loving this. -(laughter)-I know.

-It'll be a long four years.-Before I let you...

-Before I let you go...-Yeah.

That's an interesting thingthat you say--

"It'll be a long four years."

-This is just week two.-(laughter)

-Oh, my God. -So... Oh, you guysforget? You guys forgot?


Looking forward,

what do you thinkare some of the scariest,

or just eventhe most egregious examples

of the Trump administration'sintentions

to bypass what Americansconsider the law in the country?

Are there any things thatyou're looking out at going,

"We need to worry about that?"

Well, if they try to violatethis judge's order,

which we're now in the middleof looking at--

-whether or not individuals arecomplying with it... -Mm-hmm.

...that's the canaryin the coal mine.

That meansthat this administration thinks

that they don't have to heedfederal judges.

That would be very dangerousand very problematic.

If they gothe next step further,

enacting other executive orders

-that go after LGBTindividuals... -Mm-hmm.

...or to tryto defund Planned Parenthood,

one of America's most storied,important organizations...

-Mm-hmm.-(applause and cheering)

Those will be our Alamos,

and we can make surewe fight those battles.

And I have every confidencethat the American people...

We're too good-minded,we're too optimistic.

Our values mean something.

You know,and I think ultimately,

we prevail against the forces

that would try to undothe very best of what we are.

-You've done a great jobthis weekend. -Thank you.

-Everyone is behind you.-Thank you very much.

Thank you so much.Thank you for coming.

-Thank you very much.-Thank you for your time.

Anthony Romero, everybody.