PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Federal officers’ actions at protests in Oregon’s largest city, hailed by President Donald Trump but done without local consent, are raising the prospect of a constitutional crisis — one that could escalate as weeks of demonstrations find renewed focus in clashes with camouflaged, unidentified agents outside Portland’s U.S. courthouse.
Demonstrators crowded in front of the U.S. federal courthouse and the city’s Justice Center late Monday night, before authorities cleared them out as the loud sound and light of flash bang grenades filled the sky.
State and local authorities, who didn’t ask for federal help, are awaiting a ruling in a lawsuit filed late last week. State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in court papers that masked federal officers have arrested people on the street, far from the courthouse, with no probable cause and whisked them away in unmarked cars.
Trump says he plans to send federal agents to other cities, too.“We’re going to have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,” Trump said Monday. “In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job. They’ve been there three days, and they really have done a fantastic job in a very short period of time.”Constitutional law experts said federal officers’ actions in the progressive city are a “red flag” in what could become a test case of states’ rights as the Trump administration expands federal policing.
“The idea that there’s a threat to a federal courthouse and the federal authorities are going to swoop in and do whatever they want to do without any cooperation and coordination with state and local authorities is extraordinary outside the context of a civil war,” said Michael Dorf, a professor of constitutional law at Cornell University.
“It is a standard move of authoritarians to use the pretext of quelling violence to bring in force, thereby prompting a violent response and then bootstrapping the initial use of force in the first place,” Dorf said.
Homeland Security was planning to deploy about 150 of its agents to Chicago, according to an official with direct knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
They were expected to stay in Chicago at least two months and could be be deployed to other locations at some point, the official said. Homeland Security said in a statement that the department does not comment on “allegedly leaked operations.”
The ACLU of Oregon has sued in federal court over the agents’ presence in Portland, and the organization’s Chicago branch said it would similarly oppose a federal presence.