DOJ Proposes New ‘Emergency Powers’ to Tackle Challenges Amid CCP Virus Pandemic

March 23, 2020 Updated: March 25, 2020

The Justice Department (DOJ) has proposed a number of legislative changes to help federal courts consistently manage cases that have been impacted by the CCP virus, including proposals to give a district’s chief judge power to extend deadlines or delay the statute of limitations in cases during a national emergency.

The proposals, first reported by Politico, were developed in consultation with Congress and the federal judiciary in order to help federal judges “administer fair and impartial justice during the pandemic” and ensure that all cases in a particular district are treated similarly, DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement on Twitter on March 22.

“Because of pandemic-related measures, courts are closing and grand juries are not meeting. That means prosecutors may not be able to indict criminals before a statute of limitations expires, or that dangerous criminals who have been arrested may be released because of time limits,” she said.

The documents reviewed by the media outlet revealed several proposals on a range of topics, including the statute of limitations, asylum, and the way court hearings are to proceed during the pandemic.

One of the proposals would allow Attorney General William Barr to ask the chief judge of any district to pause court proceedings “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

The department also suggested granting top judges the power to suspend court proceedings during emergencies, including procedures affecting “pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings,” according to the news outlet. The DOJ explained in its documents that individual judges already have the authority to do so during emergencies, but the proposals would ensure all judges in a district are acting consistently.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns over some of the proposals due to their potential implications for the constitutional right of habeas corpus—the right for individuals who have been arrested to appear before a judge to ask to be released from jail or prison. The proposals raise questions about whether individuals could be detained indefinitely without a trial during an emergency.

Kupec defended the need for the proposals, saying that the goal of these provisions is to ensure that the justice system continues to operate “equitably and effectively” while also harmonizing “what is already being done on an ad hoc basis by courts around the country.”

“The proposed legislative text confers powers upon judges. It does not confer new powers upon the executive branch. These provisions are designed to empower the courts to ensure the fair and effective administration of justice,” Kupec wrote.

Kupec said the authority to extend deadlines and pause the statute of limitations, including in criminal cases, would end upon the termination of the national emergency concerning COVID-19 declared by President Donald Trump on March 13 or the chief justice’s finding that the emergency conditions “no longer materially affect the functioning of the federal court generally, or in the district,” whichever is earlier.

“These proposals were suggestions for the consideration of Congress, and it is Congress that will decide whether to enact them into law,” she wrote.

Some Democratic lawmakers such as Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have said they plan to block the proposed legislative changes. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) are showing resistance to the proposals.

Many federal courts around the country are taking a range of measures in response to the CCP virus, including postponing arguments and restricting access to court buildings. As of March 23, there were more than 41,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States and 479 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The Epoch Times refers to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, as the CCP virus because the Chinese Communist Party’s coverup and mismanagement allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.

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