Two very significant events happened this week: Donald Trump was arraigned in New York City, and the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) substantially revised its speech code. Having received many inquires about these matters, I am devoting this week’s op-ed to both issues.
Two weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on the impending Trump prosecution. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has now released the indictment against Trump, and while Trump’s haters may have jumped for joy when they heard he was charged with 34 felonies, the indictment didn’t really reveal anything new. Bragg’s case basically comes down to what the press was already reporting.
Bragg is attempting to transform the misdemeanor offense of falsifying a business record into felony offenses. He claims Trump falsified the records to cover up a federal campaign finance crime – over which Bragg has no jurisdiction and which the feds declined to prosecute because they thought there was no case. As I said previously, it’s a clown show.
After seeing the indictment, I also question whether New York even has jurisdiction over this case. The indictment repeatedly says that Trump made a series of false business records in New York in 2017 at the rate of about two per month. There’s just one problem: in 2017, Trump was in Washington, not New York (because, you know, that’s where the President of the United States works).
Bragg also appears to believe that The Trump Organization falsified the records. However, Trump resigned from The Trump Organization on Jan. 19, 2017, before the first payment was made in February.
Thus, Trump wasn’t only absent from New York, he was officially disaffiliated from The Trump Organization. So how in the world did he have anything to do with what happened in New York in 2017? I’m neither a New York lawyer nor a white-collar lawyer, but I think there’s a good case that New York lacks jurisdiction not only regarding the subject of the federal crime but also the person of Donald Trump.
Bragg is doing legal gymnastics with jurisdiction and the statute of limitations to make this work. If I were a Trump lawyer, I would consider hitting these points very hard. If I’m right about this but the judge doesn’t throw the case out, it will make a complete mockery of our legal system. The patent political prosecution of a former president based on meritless charges is the kind of thing you see in a banana republic, not the United States of America.
While the rule of law is trashed in New York, it is honored here in Alabama. Earlier this week, UAH agreed to rescind a policy requiring students to get permits and confining most student speech to free speech zones. This was a huge win for freedom of speech.
In late 2021, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sued on behalf of Young Americans for Liberty at UAH, arguing that its student speech code violated Alabama’s Campus Free Speech Act and the Free Speech Clause of the Alabama Constitution. When the trial court dismissed the complaint, ADF appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office sided with ADF, assisting ADF at oral argument. My organization, the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty (“ACLL”), filed a brief arguing that the Alabama Constitution actually protected more speech than the Federal Free Speech Clause did in this case.
The Alabama Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in favor of the students and sent the case back to the trial court for further consideration. Chief Justice Parker commended ACLL in a concurring opinion for bringing up the state constitution, which is often forgotten in advocacy nowadays.
On remand, ADF asked me to serve as its local counsel going forward, and I accepted. Not long after, the university agreed to revise its policy to fit the law’s requirements.
George Washington warned that if “the freedom of Speech may be taken away,” then “dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.” The entire purpose of American universities is to provide students a place to pursue truth and learn, equipping them to be our next generation of leaders. If students are not allowed to speak freely as they search for truth, then we are doomed indeed. I commend UAH for making the right decision in the end.
Hopefully, President Trump’s case will turn out the same way and justice will prevail for him as it did for students at UAH.
Matt Clark is the President of the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty, a conservative nonprofit law firm that fights for limited government, free markets, and strong families in the courts. His column appears every Friday in 1819 News. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
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