Penn Expert: Trump Can’t Register Muslims, but He Can Easily Launch Nukes

Here's his constitutional can-do and can't-do list, according to Penn’s Kermit Roosevelt.

Photo by Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, University of Pennsylvania constitutional law expert Kermit Roosevelt explained to us how the Electoral College could (but probably shouldn’t) send Hillary Clinton to the White House. Today, we ask him whether Donald Trump can do all of the crazy things he’s talked about doing.

Trump talked about a lot of radical ideas during his campaign, and it remains to be seen which ones he actually intends to go through with. On a constitutional level, what can he do unilaterally?
If he tries to create a national registry for Muslims, the Supreme Court would stop him. A lot of people are talking about him changing the Supreme Court, and he can tilt it to the right. But he doesn’t have the opportunity to make it a Supreme Court that does whatever he wants. That would take a lot more appointments.

As for immigration, this is an issue of enforcing existing laws. We have many more people here illegally than we have the capacity to deport, but he could target them and ramp up that effort.

Can he ban Muslims from entering the country?
In terms of excluding immigrants on the grounds of religion being constitutional or not, it’s not clear. But that is something that Congress definitely has power over, and if Congress doesn’t like what the president is doing, they can stop him, assuming they can override a veto.

A lot of people are worried that he’s going to declare war on half of the world.
Only Congress can declare war. He can respond to attacks on his own, but he cannot initiate hostility. The idea that he will start a war over some foreign politician tweeting something — that would be unconstitutional. I would think that the military would refuse to obey an order like that in the absence of Congress’s approval. The president cannot take the country to war by himself.

But that can get down to semantics, right?
It’s not clear what “war” is. Obama didn’t get approval for the Libya intervention under the logic that it’s not war because we didn’t have troops on the ground. Well, if you follow that logic, Trump could decide one day to launch cruise missiles at someone and say it’s not war.

Which brings us to the most dreaded and ominous possibility of all: the nuclear option. Trump has had some interesting things to say on the subject. Is it as easy as him just deciding that nukes are called for in response to an attack?
Yes, absolutely. If Congress doesn’t do something to take it off the table. That might be a worthwhile law actually for Congress, to put some additional safeguards on the use of nuclear weapons. But for now, the president can decide the degree of force required. If he decides to use nuclear weapons, he can do that.

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