Treason

After many Democrats sat stone-faced during his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump remarked: “Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.” For some months, a number of Democrats and others have also used the word treason in reference to a meeting between Trump’s son Donald Jr. and a Russian lawyer: “… (W)e’re now beyond obstruction of justice in terms of what’s being investigated. This is moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason,” U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine said last summer. Their assessments raise the question: What constitutes a criminal charge of treason?

While “treason” is often used in lay terms as a synonym for disloyalty, as a legal matter it has a very specific meaning under Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. Treason is the betrayal of the U.S. by waging war against it or by consciously acting to aid its enemies. It can only be invoked, as a criminal charge, against an individual with ties to the U.S., in a time of war and when at least two witnesses can testify to an “overt act.”  Read more …

About
ABA Legal Fact Check

The late U.S. senator and diplomat Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” In today’s fast-moving world, it is often difficult to distinguish between fact and opinion. Through our new ABA Legal Fact Check, the American Bar Association will use case and statutory law and other legal precedents to separate legal fact from fiction. Please feel free to pose a question or tell us how we are doing at legalfactcheck@americanbar.org.

Hilarie Bass
ABA President



scales Recent legal news and the law behind it

Influencing Elections

In mid-December, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was quoted as saying that U.S. officials were “increasingly concerned” that Russia was using “sophisticated campaigns of subversion and disinformation and propaganda … to polarize democratic societies.” This would be consistent with allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Then, on February 16 federal prosecutors indicted 13 individuals associated with Russia and three Russian organizations with illegally using social media platforms to interfere with U.S. elections. Read more …

Sexual Harassment

In recent weeks, a steady stream of sexual harassment charges against men has affected various sectors of the U.S. economy. Some of the allegations could land in court, although experts suggest not all will be winnable cases. “You’ll see case after case where a woman was groped at work and the court will dismiss the case as a matter of law, finding that’s not sexual harassment,” University of Cincinnati law professor Sandra Sperino said on NPR in late November.  Read more …

Gun Control

The horrific shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 renewed the unsettled national debate on gun control, including the legality of owning automatic weapons. Current state laws differ governing restrictions on types of firearms a person can own, and the U.S. Supreme Court has shown reluctance, except on occasion, to weigh in on matters dealing with the Second Amendment. Read more …


In November 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice filed lawsuits to revoke the U.S. citizenship of five immigrants who concealed in their naturalization applications that they pleaded guilty to sexually abusing minors in incidents said to occur before they were naturalized. Amid a federal crackdown on immigrants, the lawsuits raise questions of whether and when can a person’s citizenship be revoked. Read more …

Revoking Citizenship

At an Alabama political rally on Sept. 22, President Donald Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a (expletive) off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!'” But can government leaders or employers force individuals to participate, in the customary way, in national rituals? Read more …

National Anthem Controversy

In late summer of 2017, a resident asked the village board of Mundelein, Ill., a northwest suburb of Chicago, to place a Hanukkah menorah in a public park next to the traditional Christmas tree. Village attorney Charles Marino provided this guidance: “My (legal) research has indicated that a Christmas tree or a holiday tree is secular,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “It is not a religious symbol. It is neutral. However, a menorah is a religious symbol and a creche is a religious symbol. …And so, a safe harbor is where the village is right now.” The Mundelein Village Board turned down the request.  Read more …

Religious Displays

In a media appearance a few days before the Dec. 12 special election in Alabama, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, indicated that her colleagues would have to seat controversial Alabama Republican Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate if he wins. “If he is elected, there are no grounds under the Constitution to fail to seat him,” Collins said. But Moore lost the race.  Read more …

Roy Moore

“Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment.” – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler after two men were killed in the spring of 2017 when they confronted another individual who was uttering anti-Muslim slurs. But that analysis is wrong. 
Read more …

Hate Speech

The Trump administration has filed charges in federal civilian court against Sayfullo Saipov, a non-citizen, arrested for driving a truck killing eight people down a bike path on Oct. 31 in New York City. U.S. Sen. John McCain, among others, said Saipov should face a military tribunal.  Read more …

Trying Non-Citizen Terrorists

On Oct. 11, President Donald Trump suggested that NBC invited a challenge to its broadcast license because of its reporting on his administration. But on what grounds can a broadcast license be successfully challenged?  Read more …

Broadcast News

On Oct. 22, 2017, American-British financier Bill Browder tweeted, “Not only did Putin add me to the Interpol list, but the US simultaneously revoked my visa." Browder is the hedge fund manager turned human rights activist who championed the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law aimed at punishing Russians officials involved in corruption, which was passed following the mysterious 2009 death of Browder’s Russian lawyer while in custody. The U.S. government quickly reversed itself, saying Browder’s revocation was an administrative mistake.  Read more …

Magnitsky Act

With hurricane season here, state and local authorities have the lawful power to order mandatory evacuations to protect lives either before or after a natural or man-made disaster. But residents in the path of a storm may believe these orders force them to choose between following the law and protecting their property.  Read more …

Forced Evacuation

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of President Donald Trump's travel bans, which were done through executive orders. Among other issues, the actions have raised the issue: What are the limits on presidential executive orders?  Read more …

Executive Orders

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail!” then President-elect Trump tweeted in mid-November 2016. Can a person be punished for burning or desecrating the American flag? If they own the flag, they cannot, according to two Supreme Court decisions.  Read more …

Flag Burning

When a Google engineer was fired this month after his 10-page document chastising the company's diversity efforts became public, it raised questions about whether free speech is protected in the workplace. There is no blanket protection, and the extent of protection depends on many factors.  Read more …

Free Speech

A  U.S. president has broad powers to issue pardons to individuals involved in criminal investigations. But are those powers unlimited? No, there are some limitations such as for offenses on a state level. And, it is unsettled whether a president can pardon him- or herself.  Read more …

Presidential Pardons

On August 1, 2017, the Justice Department announced plans to investigate and possibly sue universities over affirmative action admissions policies determined to discriminate against white applicants, according to a New York Times report. Is it constitutional for universities to consider affirmative action in college admissions?  Read more …

Affirmative Action

Calls to break up the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals are floated on a regular basis. They surfaced again in late April after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against President Trump's immigrant travel ban. Could such a breakup be done? Yes, but breaking up, even for a federal judicial circuit, can be hard to do.    Read more …

Ninth Circuit

American Bar Association

Ethics and Environmental Practice