Within hours of the terror attacks in Brussels, Senator Ted Cruz sent out a press release that declared, “The days of the United States voluntarily surrendering to the enemy to show how progressive and enlightened we are at an end.”
The Texas senator and presidential candidate called for more security on the southern border and said the United States needs to “halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence.” He also advanced a radical idea: “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”
Cruz’s campaign did not reply to immediate requests for clarification, but this proposal raises several questions: What powers would Cruz grant law enforcement that it doesn’t already have? How does one identify what is, and is not, a Muslim neighborhood? What does it mean to “secure” the area? Would non-Muslims in that area also be subject to law enforcement surveillance and unspecified “securing”? How are these law-enforcement actions constitutionally permissible “before” there is any radicalization present?
Cruz has argued several cases before the Supreme Court and is frequently hailed as a “full-spectrum Constitutional conservative” on the campaign trail. At the rallies I attended in Iowa and New Hampshire, Cruz often spoke of “religious liberty” in the context of perceived attacks by the Obama administration on Christian groups in the United States, as well as on active-duty soldiers, who Cruz claimed were forbidden from praying. (They are not.)
While the details of this proposal are still unclear—I will update if the campaign responds—they rang alarm bells among constitutional experts. “Profiling people based on their religion or race is blatantly unconstitutional and violates the guarantee of religious protection and religious freedom,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s national-security project, in a phone interview.
“One way to look at it is to replace the word ‘Muslim’ with ‘Jewish,’ ‘Christian,’ ‘African American,’ or ‘Latino.’ What’s wrong in one context is wrong in others,” Shamsi added.
This new position is somewhat of a shift for Cruz: after the attacks in San Bernardino, he explicitly rejected Republican calls for more surveillance by the National Security Agency. “Hoarding tens of billions of records of ordinary citizens did not stop Fort Hood, it didn’t stop Boston, it didn’t stop Chattanooga, it didn’t stop Garland, and it failed to detect the San Bernardino plotters,” he said at the time.