Exclusive: Stephen Miller Unveils America First Legal's Multipronged War

Rob Shimshock | June 4, 2021 | 10:56am EDT
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President Donald Trump's senior advisor for policy Stephen Miller speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 2, 2017. (Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump's senior advisor for policy Stephen Miller speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 2, 2017. (Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

"Once passed, a president has no authority whatsoever to suspend, rewrite, or nullify duly enacted law," former President Donald Trump's senior advisor, Stephen Miller, told CNSNews during an exclusive interview.

Miller addressed various initiatives of his new nonprofit, America First Legal, which he described as the "conservative response" to the American Civil Liberties Union. The group has thus far has opposed the Biden Administration in cases ranging from illegal immigration to racial discrimination.

"Does a president have the authority to suspend by edict, laws that have already been passed and adopted and signed by a previous administration?" Miller asked, referring to Biden's catch and release policies and stonewalling of ICE's ability to remove criminal illegal aliens. "The answer, of course, is resoundingly no."

Below is a transcript of the interview with Stephen Miller.

Rob Shimshock: Hi there, my name is Rob Shimshock, commentary editor at CNSNews, and we’ve been following a new nonprofit, America First Legal, which is using the legal system to combat the left’s attempt to strip Americans of their civil liberties. In April, I spoke with Matt Whitaker, former President Donald Trump’s acting attorney general, who now sits on the board of advisors at America First Legal and today I am talking to Stephen Miller, who served as senior advisor to President Donald Trump and is now president of America First Legal. Stephen, thanks for joining me. 

Stephen Miller: Great to be here, thank you.

Shimshock: Now, when I spoke with Matt last month, America First Legal was just getting the ball rolling with joining lawsuits, filing for injunctions, and so on. I believe your first action was to serve as outside counsel for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in suing the Biden Administration to prevent illegal aliens potentially infected with the coronavirus from being released into Texas. So Stephen, what’s the latest on this lawsuit and any other immigration-related efforts of America First Legal?

Miller: Yes, great question. So, first of all, as you mentioned, we are a brand new organization and the way that I summarize it for people is that we are the conservative response to the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union]. And so we saw for the last four-plus years, how every time President Trump tried to advance a policy -- a lawful policy, in the case of our administration -- the left ran to a court, typically, you know, in a place like San Francisco, to try to get an injunction from a left-leaning judge and stymie our ability to effectuate conservative policy for the country. And there really isn’t any parallel to this or hasn’t been for conservatives. Of course, the most important distinction between what the ACLU is doing and what we, as a brand new organization are doing: they went to court to prevent the administration from engaging in lawful conduct; we’re going to court to try to stop this administration from engaging in unlawful conduct. 

Exhibit A is the massive rush of illegal aliens being openly invited across our borders. This has never happened before in American history. We’ve, of course, had illegal immigration before and sometimes we’ve had very large amounts of illegal immigration. But we’ve never had an administration in the whole history of our country that has actively encouraged, facilitated, recruited, and resettled illegal immigrants en masse across the southern border and into the United States interior. So that is indeed an action without precedent. It also happens to be illegal. And we are proudly serving as outside counsel for the state of Texas in a lawsuit against the Biden Administration over its catch and release policies, particularly in light of how those policies violate the government’s own pandemic rules and own infectious disease controls. 

Additionally, we’re also serving as part of the legal team with the state of Louisiana and its lawsuit against the Biden Administration’s effective abolition of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] via executive memorandum. And that’s a very important lawsuit on a lot of different levels, not just as a constitutional issue, although of course that’s the most important, but also as a matter of public safety. We’ve seen reporting in The Washington Post, as an example, that the number of deportations, despite the historic flood of the border, the number of ICE deportations reached its lowest level in April ever recorded. Almost a hundred percent of the drop-off in interior removals has been achieved by not removing criminal aliens from the country. That's illegal immigrants that are either charged or convicted of crimes. Last year, 92% of the illegal aliens that ICE removed had criminal records. That’s an astonishing fact and it demonstrates the dire consequences for public safety of these ICE-dismantling policies. 

As to your question, the next phase in both of these lawsuits is to try to obtain a preliminary injunction against these policies and hopefully to have that apply nationwide. And really, it comes down to a fundamental question, which is: does a president have the authority to suspend by edict, laws that have already been passed and adopted and signed by a previous administration? The answer, of course, is resoundingly no. There’s only one way a president can block law and that is before the law is enacted, he can veto it. It’s all spelled out clearly in the Constitution. He can veto a law, prior to enactment, when the bill is sent to his desk and if Congress cannot muster the votes to override it, then that law doesn’t, in fact, become law, or the bill does not become law. Once passed, a president has no authority whatsoever to suspend, rewrite, or nullify duly enacted law. So this really is a core constitutional issue about the president's fundamental obligation in the Constitution to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. And my organization is at the leading edge of this battle and I'll just say -- in closing, in response to your first question -- that I am immensely gratified that as a brand new organization, only weeks old, we are already involved in, on the ground, some of the most important legal battles happening in the whole country. 

Shimshock: Now I know your group has also been very active in other fields, particularly on the front of racial discrimination, and what I like about America First Legal’s approach here is that you’re not just fixated on one prong of this attack by the left but are instead tackling the whole kit and kaboodle, suing the Biden Administration to stop discrimination against white farmers, filing for a temporary restraining order on COVID relief funds being distributed to restaurants based on the skin color of their owners, and slamming the Department of Education for a proposed rule to include viciously racist critical race theory in K-12 education. So tell me a bit about these fights briefly and let me know how optimistic, or concerned, you are about each of them.

Miller: So, I’m gravely concerned about what will happen to our country if we do not stop these efforts in court. This is fundamentally a question of civil rights. It is a civil rights issue and what the Biden Administration has done is they have betrayed the civil rights movement in this country, which was predicated on the idea enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, and we all know the phrase that “All men are created equal”. Those aren’t just words. That is written into the very soul of our country. And to have an administration that is now using the awesome power of the government to try to reward some and punish others based on skin color, ethnicity, or just their general country of background is really insidious, extraordinarily dangerous, and of course, patently unconstitutional. 

You referenced a few of our efforts in this area. So obviously, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund is a prime example of this. So restaurants owners across the country, and bar owners for that matter too, are among those most devastated by the pandemic and, in particular, the closures that were forced onto our bar and restaurant owners in response to the pandemic. This was not something they did to themselves; these were people who were running great businesses, they had very loyal and happy customers, they had many employees that were thriving, that were doing well, that were enjoying their jobs. Everything was going well. And then they were ordered to close because of the pandemic. And they saw their life’s work, their life’s dreams, go up into smoke. And not just the proprietors, but of course many of their workers too. And so the idea the federal government, recognizing this is a problem, would come along and provide a revitalization fund for restaurant owners, but then say “your eligibility for this fund is predicated on where your ancestors came from” is really quite pernicious and something you would never think could happen in the year 2021. 

Our effort in this case is quite simple: we’re seeking class certification because we want every single person who is seeking remedy under the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, to be treated equally regardless of skin color. And for those who would say that the solution to past discrimination is current, present-day discrimination, you are violating the core teachings of Martin Luther King and we remember, of course, his famous words that he wished people be judged by their character, not their skin color. There wasn’t an asterisk on that statement, nor was there an asterisk in the 14th Amendment, nor was there an asterisk in federal civil rights law passed during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Do you really want government to have the power to give and to take, to hurt or to help, to even imprison individuals -- which is the height, of course, of government power, the power to take away liberty -- based upon where somebody’s family comes from? What’s the limiting principle there? 

And do you really want ⎼ I don’t care what side of the aisle you’re on; I don’t care if you’re left, right, center, Independent; I don’t even care, in this case, even if you call yourself a socialist -- do you really want Washington, D.C. to have license to decide whether or not you can live the American dream based on immutable characteristics that you can’t control? Or do you want to live in a society that judges you based on who you are, how you live, what kind of person ⎼ what kind of family you raise, what kind of contributions you make to your community? And most importantly of all, do you want to ensure that in the eyes of the law that there is one legal standard that applies universally to everybody? You can’t change your skin color; it’s something that you’re born with. But in America, we’re born with something else even more important, or if we’re naturalized as a citizen, we inherit something else even more important, which is equality under law, the words enshrined not just into our system but also into our hearts, and if we don’t stand up for that principle now, when it is under attack, it will not be there for you later when you need it most. 

Shimshock: Now, turning to another topical issue, and you alluded to this earlier, the coronavirus: we’ve seen some states, like Texas and Florida refuse to implement vaccine passports, but we recently saw the Oregon Health Authority issue an edict saying that people can enter businesses and even churches without a mask only if they have been vaccinated. Now, to me, this sounds impractical in execution and also like a pretty clear violation of medical privacy. Has America First Legal considered getting involved on this front?

Miller: So, it’s a great question. So, we’re open to looking at any case in which American civil rights and civil liberties and foundational freedoms are under threat. And I know there’s a lot of concern, which I share deeply, about vaccine passports, and I applaud the actions that Gov. DeSantis has taken to stand up for Americans’ liberty in Florida. Now I will say that one of the things that I am proudest of, and there is a long list, that we did during the Trump Administration, it’s Operation Warp Speed. We delivered vaccines in record time that are historically effective, that are historically safe, and they’re now available to millions of Americans. And in particular, because of Operation Warp Speed and the supply chains and manufacturing systems that were put into place, our nation’s most vulnerable populations were able to get vaccinated in a historic time frame, including, of course, your senior citizens. But we should not use the power of the government to force people to a) share private medical information, or b) to force them using blunt government coercion to make a private medical decision. 

It’s not just about the coronavirus. It’s about what kind of powers you want vested in the awesome power of the state. So again, I say this as somebody who worked closely with a lot of the amazing doctors and scientists that under President Trump’s diligent direction and under President Trump’s profound vision and leadership, produced these treatments and ultimately the vaccine. And Operation Warp Speed that President Trump put together is one of the greatest medical achievements in world history. But that doesn’t mean we need to use blunt federal power to coerce very personal decisions. We should focus on education, we should focus on empowerment, we should focus on transparency. Ultimately, those things will engender more trust, in my view, in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, which, again, is available to Americans because of the extraordinary work that was done on Operation Warp Speed. 

Shimshock: Great, now, I asked Matt Whitaker this question in April, but I wanted to get your take on it, too. We’ve seen coverage during the past few years about corrupt prosecutors funded by George Soros, the potential for a tainted jury, which could have played a role in the George Floyd murder ⎼ the George Floyd verdict ⎼ and we’ve even seen ostensibly conservative justices on the Supreme Court make some rather questionable decisions. So, can you identify one aspect of the legal system for me that poses the biggest hurdle to you and your team and conservatives at large as you try to defend American civil liberties, and how do you overcome that? 

Miller: There’s a lot in that question that’s really important, and, I mean, to truly give it the time it deserves, we’d probably need an hour, but let me try and take a few different pieces of that and then if I miss something that you wanted me to address, let me know. So, number one, I think that what we are seeing increasingly, and you mentioned, of course, George Soros’ role in this, is the politicization of law enforcement. And this is a recurring theme in our talk today about what kind of powers you really want the government to have, and whether we would, in fact, trust the government to have the kinds of authorities historically they never had in America. There is a red line there that you really can’t ever cross in America and that red line is trying to imprison someone or trying to free someone from prison solely for a political motivation. So, in other words, you have someone who is manifestly guilty for a crime, but you don’t prosecute them for a political reason. So, a great example of that would be left-wing rioters in cities all throughout the summer that weren’t prosecuted by local DAs [defense attorneys] or that weren’t even arrested because police officers were deprived of that authority by their mayors. So that would be a very clear example of the law being used as a political weapon by saying, “We’re not going to arrest the rioters, we’re going to let them hurt innocent, law-abiding citizens and their businesses for political reasons.” 

The flip side of that is to try to target somebody, to try to go after somebody, to put them in prison, to put them in jail for a political reason. The government, as a law enforcement matter, especially the federal level, has nearly limitless resources. Now, they’re not limitless in the literal sense -- of course there’s only so many officers, there’s only so many dollars -- but if you’re directing that power at a single individual, to that individual it may as well be infinite; it may as well be limitless. If the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] or the DOJ [Department of Justice] or any branch of federal investigatory or prosecutorial power says, “I want to hurt and destroy this person,” even if that person is as innocent as an angel, they can inflict unimaginable damage. Just the toll, the wear and tear of the criminal justice system, the time, the energy, the stress that that can inflict on a person is really unimaginable. So, you never, ever, ever, ever again, want to cross that red line -- and unfortunately we see it crossed a lot -- of trying to target somebody for political reasons. 

And this gets us into pretty foundational issues about how the left, and particularly the radical left, the modern left, the ultra-progressive left, views law in this country. And it relates somewhat to critical race theory as well, too, which rejects the American notion of law and the idea of objectivity. And it’s really the heart of the divide in America right now, which is that the hard left views the law as simply an instrument to advance their own agenda and objectives. It’s just another tool. In other words, it doesn’t have any inherent guidelines or structures built around it. It’s a sword; it’s a weapon. Wield it however you want, point it wherever you want, hurt whoever you want to hurt. In other words, they don’t think of it like “oh, we better have all these self-imposed restraints so we’re in power, not hurt anybody for political reason;” they say “no, if this is a tool we have then use it, just like the media is a tool, if Wall Street financing is a tool, if corporate America is a tool, then the law is a tool.” Right? And you know, you see this example where you have some highly politicized prosecutions in recent years, and we all know what they are. 

Now, the flip side of this, right, which I even hesitate to even call conservative because it almost unduly suggests that it’s a political issue; it’s not, it’s an American issue, it’s just the classical American notion that conservatives are trying to conserve, but it’s the heritage that we all have, which is the idea -- and it's uniquely embedded into the American system, right? -- that all people are entitled to absolute neutrality, objectivity, and impartiality where the law is concerned. Whether you are penniless or wealthy, whether you’re black, white, brown, Jewish, Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, you name it, regardless of the circumstances of your birth, your political views, your ideology, your philosophy, your political party, what you say, what you do, who you offend, who you upset, I mean, you name it, you do not get targeted because of who you are, you do not get treated differently because of who you are, and in fact, in the most emotional cases, in the most important cases, is when that standard of objectivity is the most important. 

This plays out in the Supreme Court and it's one of the most important things that President Trump achieved for our country, was appointing not one, not two, but three Supreme Court justices, confirmed to the highest court in our land, who believe in that neutral standard of law. It’s in sharp contrast to the left-wing standard of jurisprudence which -- the phrase we use a lot is “results-oriented”-- which can sound somewhat blasée or non-threatening, but what results-oriented really means is that I’m going to bend, twist, shape, alter, or even disfigure the law to arrive at the conclusion that I think is right or in my case I just politically prefer. Ultimately, that is anathema to the entire system of law that we inherited. And I’ll just say on this point that it’s important to understand the American legal tradition was not just born of nothing, you know, I call it sometimes “the big bang theory” and that’s the wrong way to look at how American law was born. We didn’t just have a bunch of Founding Fathers who just said we’re going to just have a completely blank slate and we’re going to create a new system and a new tradition out of nothing. No, this represented the perfection, the ultimate refinement, the careful honing, progression, and development of a system of law that had been practiced for years in Britain and in England and can trace its roots all the way back to ancient Greece. In other words, this system had been improved steadily over time, learned the hard lessons of history, the hard lessons of failure, through triumph, through setback for literally thousands of years, so that ultimately, our Founding Fathers took the best features of what they inherited, then added to it, built on top of it, again, refined it, perfected it, and bequeathed it to all of us. 

That system of law is probably our most important inheritance as Americans. So, when it’s politicized, when it’s twisted for partisan ends, we risk destroying the most important feature of American society. Think about this for a second: how many other countries in the world have constitutions on paper that guarantee their freedoms, but in fact enjoy few or even none? How many systems in the world have a body of law that’s basically fine, but their systems are corrupt, unreliable, that your protection from the law depends on how connected you are, how wealthy you are, who you know, if your views are popular? Right, why do those systems operate in practice so differently than they exist on paper? It’s because in those countries, they don’t have a tradition, as we do, of legal objectivity and neutrality that is a hard-won, hard-fought achievement, that must be jealously guarded. 

And so you asked me what I’m concerned about most: I’m concerned about the hyper-politicization of law, where we see more and more judges, more and more prosecutors, more and more politicians trying to influence rulings, solely to achieve political objectives. And when law becomes politicized in that way, when law becomes an instrument of one’s political ambitions in that way, then the whole American experiment is, frankly, endangered. 

Shimshock: Yeah and one common thread -- just on that point -- that I’ve seen is that a lot of these nefarious systems will oftentimes start off in academia. So we’ve been talking about critical race theory and then we also have the justice system, there are campus kangaroo courts when it comes to sexual assault allegations and so hopefully, we won’t take that direction as a country as a whole, but that remains to be seen. So, finally Stephen, what advice would you give to viewers who see all of this insanity going on and want to make a difference? How can they support America First Legal and, more broadly, how can they channel their understandable frustration into positive social change?   

Miller: I love that question. You mentioned something in the lead-in to it though -- a thread I want to pull at, just for a brief second -- about how so much of this starts in academia and that’s such an important point and I really want people to dwell on it. So, I got started as a young adult, you know, at the age of sixteen, being politically active, fighting left-wing bias in schools and I can tell you at the time -- and I took that fight onto college -- I can tell you at the time that a lot of the big players in conservatism didn’t take that all very seriously. In other words, they didn’t take the issue of progressive control of our academic institutions very seriously. They were focused on all the downstream things: tax policy, regulatory policy, what our financial regulations and systems should look like, what our housing policy ought to be, what our welfare policy ought to be, how we should build and finance infrastructure, all critically important issues, but it all begins with academia. It all begins with academia. And the critical race theory that we’re now seeing playing out in formal government policy began in our systems of higher learning. So, a very important point. 

Now, just to answer your question -- the most important thing that your viewers can do is to go to AFLegal.org -- that’s my website for America First Legal, AFLegal.org -- and sign up and join the team today. I’ve dedicated my life to advancing our shared principles. I have put all of my heart, my energy, and my drive into doing this because I know that it’s right for this country. And I am convinced that if we choose the path of optimism, and say that we still can, in fact, save our country, that we will. We cannot be despondent, we can’t disengage, we can’t even let ourselves become bitter. We have to be realistic about how enormous the challenges are and how rapidly we are, in fact, losing so many of the things that we treasure. But they can be saved and we can reclaim our nation’s heritage, our sovereignty, our borders. It will be a monumental challenge, but it begins right now in our courtrooms to vindicate our legal and civil rights. So go to AFLegal.org today, become a part of the team; I welcome your help, I welcome your support, I welcome your friendship in this effort, be a part of the team, be a part of the answer. 

Shimshock: Awesome, well I’m very excited to see what America First Legal accomplishes this year, and thanks so much for joining us, Stephen. 

Miller: Thank you.

Rob Shimshock is the commentary editor at CNSNews.com. He has covered education, culture, media, technology, and politics for a variety of national outlets, hosted the Campus Unmasked YouTube show, and was named to The Washington Examiner's "30 Under 30" list. Shimshock graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Media Studies.

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