Due Process for Donald–and Us

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Everyone should be happy, or at least relieved, that the size of the bond Donald Trump has to pay to appeal his civil liability penalty in the case of the over-inflated property valuation was reduced from about $464 million to $175 million.  After all, the strengthening of Trump’s right to due process, especially as it concerns appeals in civil cases, strengthens everyone else’s rights as well.

Trump’s sympathizers in this case have argued that the bond he had to post before appealing the verdict against him was excessive because it made appeal almost impossible and besides, he hadn’t really done anyone any identifiable harm.  Even if he did inflate the value of his properties to get loans on more favorable terms—so what?  Although he has the reputation for “stiffing” creditors and venders, he nonetheless repaid every penny of every loan in question.  His creditors made money from doing business with him.  Moreover, they could have, and should have, done due diligence in checking the values of the properties Trump was using as collateral, but they chose to accept Trump’s values as satisfactory.

It has also been argued that New York Attorney General Letitia James’s case was merely political anyway.  She had campaigned for office with a promise to “Get Trump,” and once elected she promptly went out and found a case with which to get him, albeit a case with nobody Trump did business with claiming to have been hurt by him.

Nonetheless, the court found that Trump, through inflating the value of his properties, had secured loans at lower interest rates than he would have had he offered a lower and hence more honest estimates of the values of his properties.  For doing so, he had to compensate not his creditors but the State of New York for his alleged perfidy.  And if he wanted to appeal he nonetheless post a bond equal to the judgement against him which the state could claim should he lose the appeal.

No doubt many of Trump’s critics in politics and the media were gleeful at the prospect that he would lose his properties because he could not finance an appeal, especially after he reported that he had been unable to secure additional loans from at least 30 potential creditors.  And Trump himself characteristically (and stupidly) made life more difficult for himself by saying he really had enough cash on hand to finance the bond, but that he wouldn’t do so since he did not want James to get her hands on his money.  

But both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post noted that regardless of the specific facts and issues of Trump’s case, he was entitled to appeal and that through the imposition of conditions making appeal virtually impossible, he was being denied due process of law. However, the reduction of the value of the required bond makes appeal less costly and more affordable, and that’s beneficial not only for Trump, but, more importantly, for ourselves as well.

As I’ve written before in other contexts, whenever government at any level threatens someone’s rights, it sets a bad precedent by which the rights of others may be threatened as well.  Conversely, whenever government strengthens anyone’s rights, it likewise sets a precedent strengthening the rights of others as well.  That’s why, as a city council member, I argued in favor of recognizing the right of the Ku Klux Klan to stage protests in Stephenville as long as the protests were conducted legally and peacefully, and as a member of the local GOP executive committee I defended the right of gay students at Tarleton to produce a play in which Jesus was portrayed as gay. To protect the rights of those who would express unpopular views is the best way to guarantee everyone’s free speech rights, while suppressing views we don’t like will create precedents by which the government can suppress views we may do like, but which are not universally shared anyway.  And to take away anyone’s right to due process is to endanger due process rights for all—something that Republican congressmen should remember in their quest to find evidence of wrongdoing by Joe and Hunter Biden.

As far as Trump’s case and due process rights are concerned, by making the bond more affordable, he is now free to appeal the decision to higher courts.  And how will the courts respond to his appeals?  Neither he nor anyone else knows yet.  But he certainly has—or at least should have—the right to find out.  And no matter how his case turns out, the fact that he can exercise his right to appeal—an essential right if due process is to be maintained—means the due process rights of others are strengthened too.  

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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