Stephen Rohde

Stephen Rohde, a civil liberties activist, historian, and writer, practiced constitutional law for over 45 years. He is the author of American Words of Freedom and Freedom of Assembly and is a contributor to The Los Angeles Review of Books.

Recent Articles

Awakening the Constitutional Spirit of Liberty

What it will take to hold President Trump accountable

We are not in a constitutional crisis. We are in a crisis of courage. Jeffrey Toobin, the chief legal analyst for CNN, argues that “our constitutional system never contemplated a President like Donald Trump” and the system “may simply be incapable of responding to this kind of challenge.” But the Constitution did contemplate a president like Donald Trump. The founders provided Congress, the courts and the American people with an array of tools to rein in an autocrat like Trump, from congressional oversight to the power of the purse, periodic elections, enlisting the courts, and ultimately impeachment. The real question is not whether the Constitution is up to the task; it is whether the co-equal legislative and judicial branches—and ultimately the American people—are willing to actively exercise the lawful and constitutional powers they already possess in order to smoke out the depths of Trump’s corruption in ways that he cannot undo. Do we...

Julian Assange, the Espionage Act of 1917, and Freedom of the Press

The case against Assange represents the first time the 102-year-old act has been used to target a media organization. 

On June 11, the U.S. government formally submitted an extradition request to the United Kingdom for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He is facing an 18-count indictment accusing him of soliciting and publishing classified information and conspiring with former Army private Chelsea Manning to crack a Defense Department computer password. All of these charges (other than the one about the computer password) arise under the rarely used Espionage Act of 1917. Extradition may be complicated if British authorities view these charges as “political offenses” and therefore exempt from extradition. The Espionage Act has never before been used to prosecute a media organization for publishing or disseminating unlawfully disclosed classified information. Although the Justice Department questions whether Assange is a legitimate journalist, the fact is that since founding WikiLeaks, Assange has been in the business of gathering and publishing newsworthy information and documents. He...

A Conversation with Dick Durbin

The senator from Illinois on emoluments, impeachment, and whether Trump has violated the oath of office.

S enator Dick Durbin of Illinois has served as Senate Democratic whip since 2005 and is ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and the Appropriations Committee 's Subcommittee on Defense. He was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and previously served in the House of Representatives for 13 years. An experienced trial lawyer, he has become well known for his intensive questioning of witnesses and judicial nominees before the Judiciary Committee. This interview was conducted by Stephen Rohde by email. Stephen Rohde: President Trump swore that he would “faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Has he violated his oath? Dick Durbin: No president in our nation’s history has been more disdainful of our Constitution than President Trump. He has attacked decisions made by federal judges; he has usurped...

Trump Loses Opening Round in His Efforts to Defy Congressional Oversight

A federal judge finds that the precedents are heavily on Congress’s side. Will the Supreme Court agree?

The battle between President Trump and Congress reached the third branch of government Monday as a federal judge rejected all of Trump’s legal arguments in his intensified attack on congressional oversight. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta for the District of Columbia issued a 41-page decision in the historically named case Trump v. Committee on Oversight and Reform , rejecting Trump’s attempt to quash a subpoena seeking his financial records. It was the first legal test in the battle between Trump and Congress, and Trump lost. Badly. Trump immediately denounced the ruling as “totally the wrong decision by obviously an Obama-appointed judge.” Trump falsely claimed the decision was “crazy because if you look at it, this has never happened to any other president.” In fact, Judge Mehta gave numerous examples, including the congressional investigations into Watergate involving President Richard Nixon and Whitewater involving President Bill Clinton. The...

The Emoluments Clause Could Be a Tipping Point in Trump’s Downfall

The obstruction of justice documented in Mueller’s report has gotten more attention, but Trump’s profiting from his office is an open-and-shut impeachment count.

Alex Brandon/AP Photo
On April 30, a federal district judge rejected Trump’s motion to throw out the lawsuit filed by approximately 201 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives alleging that Trump has flagrantly violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause. The case was largely overlooked as national attention has focused on Trump’s obstruction of justice and his efforts to block further congressional scrutiny of his abuses of power. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, in a comprehensive 48-page opinion , ruled that the narrow definition of “emoluments” advanced by Trump’s lawyers “disregards the ordinary meaning of the term as set forth in the vast majority of Founding-era dictionaries; is inconsistent with the text, structure, historical interpretation, adoption, and purpose of the Clause; and is contrary to Executive Branch practice over the course of many years.” This was not the first time a federal judge has allowed such a case to go forward...