Note: this article was originally published in Newsweek, and includes an interview with Checks & Balances member Charles Fried.
Charles Fried was a fervent, superior officer on the frontlines of the Reagan Revolution. As solicitor general of the United States from 1985 to 1989, he urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the reining liberal orthodoxies of his day—on abortion, civil rights, executive power and constitutional interpretation.
But the Trump Revolution has proven a bridge too far. As he reveals in a scorching interview with Newsweek‘s Roger Parloff below, Fried has broken ranks. He denounces a president who is “perhaps the most dishonest person to ever sit in the White House.” As disgusted as he is by President Donald Trump, Fried is, if possible, even more dismayed by William Barr, Trump’s current attorney general, for having stepped up as Trump’s chief apologist. Fried says of Barr. “His reputation is gone.”
Fried was born in Czechoslovakia in 1935, a country soon overrun by fascists and, later, by communists. His family escaped to England in 1939 and came to the United States in 1941. Fried became a U.S. citizen in 1948, got his B.A. from Princeton in 1956, two jurisprudence degrees from Oxford, and then a law degree from Columbia in 1960. He took a faculty position at Harvard Law School in 1961, and has been affiliated there, on and off, ever since, authoring nine books on law and moral philosophy. He has argued more than two dozen cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, and served as an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1995 to 1999.
At the outset of this interview, at his office at Harvard on January 14 (pre-Senate trial), Fried asked if he could make a few prefatory observations about the fundamental errors in Trump’s understanding of presidential power that have led to his impeachment. He provided Newsweek with a copy of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Steel Seizure Case of 1952 (Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer), which he’d marked up with a yellow highlighter pen.
That case arose during the Korean War, when a labor strike threatened to hobble the nation’s production of steel, which was indispensable to the war effort. President Harry Truman, “to avert a national catastrophe” and meet a “grave emergency,” his lawyers argued at the time, issued an executive order commanding the secretary of commerce to seize control of the nation’s steel production. The steel mills sued, claiming the president had exceeded his powers. Truman’s solicitor general defended the president’s order in the Supreme Court by arguing that Article 2 of the Constitution gave him “a grant of all executive powers of which the Government is capable.” The Court rejected Truman’s arguments, 6-3.