Federal Government

Bipartisan group of attorneys calls on AG Barr to resign over Lafayette Square actions

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U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

More than 100 U.S. Supreme Court practitioners and constitutional lawyers on Thursday called for U.S. Attorney General William Barr to be held accountable for the government’s use of force against protesters in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square on June 1.

In a statement posted to Medium, the bipartisan group of attorneys contends that “the rule of law and the right to assemble in protest die incrementally, not in one fell swoop.

“Our ability to defend their bulwarks is greatest in the moments after a new line is crossed, and it fades when the conduct becomes normalized. A line was crossed last week. And we, as lawyers, must speak out to defend it.”

Law.com reports that the group includes 39 former Supreme Court clerks and 20 alumni of the Department of Justice’s Office of Solicitor General. It also includes several former Justice Department lawyers.

Law360 also has coverage of their statement.

The lawyers say that they “watched in horror” as federal officers shot peaceful protesters with rubber bullets and deployed noxious gas and pepper spray to create a photo opportunity for President Donald Trump. They condemn Barr and the president, who both walked through the area where protesters had just gathered to pose in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

The group contends that the White House has confirmed Barr approved the forcible removal of protesters and “simply put, these actions are immoral, undemocratic, unlawful and disqualifying for any official in a democratic government.”

The lawyers call for Barr to resign or for Congress to remove him.

“The Attorney General violated his oath by overseeing violence against peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights,” they say in their statement. “Those actions are irreconcilable with the unbiased administration of justice and the rule of law.”

Barr has defended the removal of protesters, but said he did not give the tactical command for federal officers to advance on them, Law.com reports.

The lawyers also call for an investigation to identify other federal officials who approved the actions deployed against the peaceful crowd, which gathered in Lafayette Square to protest the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. Those officials should also take responsibility or resign, the statement says.

“We stand in solidarity with protesters seeking racial justice,” the lawyers say. “We stress, however, that the attorney general’s actions would constitute an intolerable abandonment of the rule of law and infringement on people’s First Amendment rights to protest irrespective of protesters’ particular message.

“The issue is much broader than any particular message, viewpoint or messenger—it is the fundamental freedom from government interference with free speech, free assembly and freedom to petition the government.”

Another letter signed by more than 1,260 former Justice Department lawyers who expressed concern over Barr’s actions was posted to Medium Wednesday.

In a recently filed lawsuit, protesters and Black Lives Matter D.C. also allege that their ouster from Lafayette Square on June 1 violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly and their Fourth Amendment right of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

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