MONTPELIER — Democratic leaders in the House and Senate say they are firmly behind Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s plans to oppose a presidential executive order that seeks the help of state and local law enforcement in targeting immigrants, among other things.
Scott unveiled a series of actions Monday that he is taking to protect Vermonters and immigrants in response to an executive order signed Friday by Republican President Donald Trump. Scott called the order an “overreach” because it seeks help from state and local law enforcement “to perform the functions of immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens in the United States.”
In announcing the steps his administration is taking, Scott vowed to “stand up for the rights and civil liberties of all those in our state.”
On Tuesday, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, said they support Scott’s efforts.
“We look forward to partnering with the governor on insuring people’s civil rights,” Johnson said.
Ashe, meanwhile, said the Senate is “happy” to see Scott taking action.
Scott has asked his legal counsel to coordinate with the office of Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan “to assess the constitutionality of the executive orders,” with respect to the Fourth and Tenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure, while the Tenth Amendment defines the relationship between federal and state governments.
Scott is also looking to convene a special Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Cabinet to review the president’s executive orders. The cabinet will be asked to identify areas that are not in compliance with current state or constitutional law and make appropriate recommendations to the governor.
The cabinet will include Scott’s legal counsel, the secretary of Human Services, the secretary of Agriculture, the commissioner of Public Safety, the lieutenant governor, the Attorney General, the state’s defender general, a mayor from the Vermont Mayor’s Coalition, representatives from the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police and Vermont Sheriffs’ Association, as well as Johnson and Ashe.
Johnson said she will use her position in the cabinet to seek protections of Vermont’s interests.
“There are so many different executive orders and curve balls that are coming at us from Washington and really you can have a different set of priorities for each of them. But the overarching priority that I need to maintain is what maintains a supportive and peaceful, productive conversation that builds a healthy future for our state and supports individuals that are really being threatened and undermined by what’s happening in Washington right now,” she said.
Scott also announced that the state will not enter into any agreement with the federal government regarding immigration enforcement as Trump’s order suggests. The administration is drafting legislation to be reviewed by the newly created cabinet that would prevent local municipalities from entering into any such immigration enforcement agreements with the federal government, according to his spokeswoman, Rebecca Kelley.
Scott said the legislation will not prohibit law enforcement officers from upholding the law, but would ensure they are not “carrying out additional actions under the executive order that may ultimately be deemed unconstitutional or infringe on the rights of Vermonters or the rights of Vermont as a sovereign state.”
Johnson said she plans to review any proposed legislation the Scott administration suggests.
“I’d have to really look at what we’re demanding of municipalities. We don’t want to put municipalities in a difficult position, but frankly, the president of the United States is putting people in a tremendously difficult position,” Johnson said. “We want to look at the details and really work for what’s in the best and just interest of our state and the many immigrants and refugees that we have always welcomed and supported in Vermont.”
Ashe said the Senate will consider legislation if the cabinet determines legislation is needed to protect Vermonters.
“If there is legislation, which would be required to protect people’s constitutional rights, then of course the Senate will take it up expeditiously,” he said.
Ashe praised the governor Tuesday for his proposed actions.
“I’ve known Phil for eight years and we’ve always known him to be someone who is independent-thinking, who, when it’s a matter of principle, stands apart from his party on an as-needed basis. We also believe he’s been a very compassionate person,” Ashe said.
Ashe said he believes Vermont is protected from any retribution from the Trump administration for seeking to skirt elements of the executive order.
“I think all across the country you’re seeing a massive amount of concern. It’s not coming just from the private sector, but also the public sector,” he said. “You’re seeing it already with states and large cities saying they have major concerns with the constitutionally of this. Of course, we have to respect the rule of law. That’s something we stand firm on here in Vermont, but working within the law, we’re going to make sure that we don’t sacrifice anyone’s constitutional and civil protections.”
Scott said he, too, believes the state is protected from any penalties the Trump administration may seek. The executive order includes financial sanctions against “sanctuary cities” and other jurisdictions that do not comply with the immigration policy it contains.
“Half of our budget is built on federal funding. But I believe we have legal standing to protect us against this,” the governor told Vermont Public Radio Tuesday.