A New Alliance for Criminal Justice Reform? Don't Count On It.

Why talk of a left-right alliance to fight the prosecution state seems unlikely.

New York Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak had legal and political opinion websites buzzing last week with a front-page article about non-traditional left-right alliances that may be emerging on criminal justice issues. 

In particular, Liptak's piece focused on a project started by the conservative Heritage Foundation that aims to combat what the think tank calls overcriminalization, a broad term that includes the federalization of crime, the expansion of state and local criminal codes, and the ramping up of police and prosecutorial power.

Heritage has taken some heat for the new project, some of it deserved and some not. It's fair, for example, to point out that Heritage and the people who have worked there over the years—such as former Reagan administration Attorney General Ed Meese—should acknowledge their own contributions to the vast expansion of police powers over the last quarter century instead of merely blaming the overcriminalization problem on the left (as Meese did in Liptak's piece). But it's also unfortunate that some liberal outlets—most notably the lefty activist Media Matters website and, following its lead, MSNBC personality Rachel Maddow—have attacked Heritage with the very sort of soft-on-crime accusations traditionally employed by the law-and-order right.

The time would certainly seem to be ripe for new left-right alliances on criminal justice reform. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider a new bill from Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) that would create a national criminal justice commission to review all aspects of America's police, criminal courts, and prisons. Webb's bill comes on the heels of a sobering set of developments. The U.S. has for some time now accumulated the world's largest prison population, both proportionally and overall. DNA testing continues to clear people wrongly convicted and imprisoned for violent crimes. And the federal criminal code has swelled from the three laws proscribed in the Constitution to, by one estimate, more than 4,000 laws today.

Still, the prospect of any sort of lasting alliance seems unlikely, mostly because conservatives, libertarians, and liberals view the legal system in fundamentally different ways. Conservatives believe the primary purpose of the legal system is to protect property and to promote order and stability. Liberals believe it's to promote equality—or to combat inequality. Libertarians put a premium on individual rights, favoring a limited legal system that serves only to protect society from those who cause direct harm to others or their property. If we were to diagram out where the three philosophies favor reform, it would look something like this:

These are generalizations, of course. There are exceptions in all three camps. But this is why leftist groups have been suspicious of Heritage, particularly when the project focuses heavily on white collar crime, which critics might see as more of an effort to protect property and the traditional social order than a genuine interest in fair justice. By the same token, many of the same liberal editorial boards, activist groups, and personalities who have championed the rights of those accused of street crimes (for lack of a better term) don't seem particularly interested in defending the rights of white collar defendants, particularly when it comes to corporate executives accused of what you might call crimes of greed. Indeed, before his fall Elliott Spitzer was a hero of the left, despite his use of the sorts of aggressive and dubiously constitutional tactics that would have many leftist groups up in arms were they used against less affluent criminal suspects. Libertarians (and reform groups like the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers) have been critical of government overreach on both fronts.

Libertarians and conservatives believe government has become too aggressive in snatching up private property—the dark orange overlap in the diagram above. For example, though conservatives have traditionally been hawkish on the drug war, it was primarily resistance from the right—most notably the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.)—that produced reforms in 2000 to odious federal civil asset forfeiture laws that give government the ability to take property from suspected criminals without actually having to convict them. In fact, it has largely been the conservative wing of the Supreme Court that has restrained the state's forfeiture powers, and the more liberal justices who have upheld them. Generally, the same can be said of eminent domain power. It was the Supreme Court's five most liberal justices who in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) ruled that the government can take land from homeowners and hand it over to wealthy developers, with the four most conservative justices in dissent.

But libertarians and conservatives part ways on consensual crimes and individual rights, with conservatives tending to take the view that the preservation of order requires us to give police and prosecutors broad leeway, even if they occasionally overstep their bounds. Conservatives may loathe the government employee sitting behind a desk at the Environmental Protection Agency, but those same conservatives will bend over backwards for the government employee with a badge, a gun, and the power to kill.

Liberals put a premium on equality. Not equality under the law (as noted above by their general support for the aggressive prosecution of white collar criminals), but equality of wealth and status. Libertarians and liberals tend to agree, then, that the drug war disproportionately harms the poor and certain minority groups. We agree on the absurdity of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparities. But libertarians are less interested in ensuring the drug laws treat everyone equally than in eradicating them altogether. Most liberals stop well short of endorsing a fundamental individual right to ingest psychoactive drugs, or the belief that preventing you from doing so isn't a legitimate function of government.

Hate crimes are another example. An emphasis on equality and tolerance routinely trumps free expression on the left. Affirmative action (which, like eminent domain, is a civil matter not a criminal one) is another example. Liberals also part ways with libertarian and conservative concerns over the federalization of crime because liberals tend to have more faith in federal than local officials to enforce the law equitably. There's certainly some historical justification for that, given the federal government's role in stopping racial inequities in the criminal justice system at the local level during the civil rights era (and beyond). But the federalization of crime has moved well beyond oversight of local officials. We're now adding another level of police power. You can be prosecuted twice for what is essentially the same crime.

These fundamental philosophical differences make broad reform alliances between advocacy groups such as Heritage, the ACLU, the Cato Institute, the NACDL, and other players in the criminal justice reform debate seem unlikely. But a more significant hurdle may be the divide between advocacy groups and politicians.

Sen. Webb notwithstanding, there's simply not much political will to alter the 40-year-old "tough on crime" paradigm. Barack Obama may be the most sympathetic president on these issues in a generation, but that isn't saying much. Liberal groups have given him a pass because of his efforts on other issues more important to them.

So far, Obama's Justice Department has sided with police and prosecutors on every major criminal case to come before the Supreme Court, often in opposition not only to groups like the ACLU and the Innocence Project but to libertarian groups like Cato, the Institute for Justice, and the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website). Obama has also increased federal crime fighting grants to local police departments, and signed a bill to broaden the federal hate crimes statute.

Beyond even ideology, this is probably the biggest barrier to reform: Politicians are simply averse to limiting government power. Electoral success is an opportunity not to roll back the excesses of the other party, but to expand police powers to achieve new objectives. Until politicians suffer at the ballot box for doing so, we probably aren't going to see any substantive reform.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

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  • Dr Duck||

    I rather think the diagram should be more of a three-cornered hat. While using the conservative-liberal axis makes for simplicity, I think that in the real world there's at least as much overlap between the "law & order" and "equality" memes as there in with each of those and the "rights" one.

  • Erewhon||

    Agreed, the linear spectrum nature of the image is problematic.

  • Kroneborge||

    I thought the purpose of goverment was to limit indivdual power. Thus, the more government the better, right?

  • ||

    Well, it's also two separate debates. What should be illegal and how illegal acts should be punished sounds similar, but they are light years apart.

    For example, I think very few things should be illegal, but if you are fairly convicted of one of those acts, all bets are off (proportional to the damage of your crime, of course.)

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    I agree, and wish some "tuff on crime" politician would seriously debate this point.

  • Robert||

    I agree that the author is conflating issues that not only are actually different but also are treated differently in most discourse. Libertarians distinguish themselves in so many ways, do we really need this bending and twisting to try to distinguish us even more?

  • Fluffy||

    So I saw the photo of Jim Webb accompanying the article blurb on the main blog page, and I did not immediately recognize the Senator.

    In fact, since the article was written by Radley, for some reason I thought it was a picture of Radley. And I thought to myself, "Holy crap, when did Radley get a hairpiece?"

    After I realized my mistake, I thought to myself, "Holy crap, Radley Balko and Jim Webb, separated at birth."

  • ||

    Politicians are simply averse to limiting government power. Electoral success is an opportunity not to roll back the excesses of the other party, but to expand police powers to achieve new objectives. Until politicians suffer at the ballot box for doing so, we probably aren't going to see any substantive reform.


    The problem in a nutshell.

  • Tony||

    Most liberals stop well short of endorsing a fundamental individual right to ingest psychoactive drugs, or the belief that preventing you from doing so isn't a legitimate function of government.

    I think most liberals drink the blood of newborns.

    I'd like to see some polling on this. The drug war is one issue where libertarians and liberals tend to be in sync. I've never met a liberal who believes anything other than legalization of at least non-hard drugs. You pretty much have to, as liberals are concerned with a lot of associated social issues, such as the economy suck that is the American prison system, and the racial disparity issue.

    On the other hand, I've rarely met a conservative who says anything on this subject other than "people need to be personally responsible and not do drugs, and if they do they deserve what they get."

  • Rimfax||

    The catch is that, in general, they aren't willing to stick their neck out for these views in the same way that they are willing to stick their neck out for new unsustainable entitlements.

  • Tony||

    Perhaps. Personally, it's my single biggest domestic policy concern, just because there are few instances where some relatively simple changes in policy could have enormous positive effects.

  • Rimfax||

    Agreed.

  • MJ||

    Liberals are leading the way in the increasing criminalization of tobacco and alcohol.

  • ||

    It seems so to me as well. When I read various news outlets and come across the nanny argument, it tends to be made more and more by the modern liberal.

  • Tony||

    Yeah I think the nanny state tendency is something liberals should be pushed back on. Of course it's more useful to do so when you're not spending all your time calling them evil commies.

  • John C. Randolph||

    The drug war is one issue where libertarians and liberals tend to be in sync.

    Bullshit. Liberals occasionally give lip service to ending the drug war, but when the chips are down, they won't abandon any pretext for expanding government power and spending.

    -jcr

  • ||

    I know a boatload of anti-WoD conservatives.

  • Rimfax||

    Same problem. Too few are willing to fight for those sentiments.

  • ||

    No doubt.

  • Jennifer||

    Conservatives think drugs should be illegal because you have no right to decide what you do with your own body. Liberals think drugs should be illegal because you have no right to set a bad example for The Children.

  • ||

    Are you sure you don't have that backwards? Come to think, isn't the problem that they both tend to think both things?

  • MJ||

    No, to the extent that liberals are against drugs it's that you belong to the state and you cannot be allowed to harm the state's property without it's permission.

  • John Markley||

    Jennifer,

    "Bad example for the children" seems to be more of a conservative thing, as they're the ones who always talk about the bad "message" it would send if vice laws were gone. I'd also say liberals believe "you have no right to decide what you do with your own body" at least as strongly as conservatives. Unless it involves sex there's really no aspect of your body liberals don't consider the government entitled to control.

  • Rimfax||

    I think that Reason has made enough positive mentions of Webb that an interview is almost imperative. He's no libertarian by anybody's measure, but he's one of the few politicians, especially on the left (maybe Barney Frank, too), who seems to value his libertarian overlap (on military adventurism and general overcriminalization) enough to fight for it.

  • ||

    The whole WoD transcends politics. Or at least, political philosophy. It's all about the police-industrial complex.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    I've never met a liberal who believes anything other than legalization of at least non-hard drugs.

    What's with the general lack of 'liberal' politicians who believe this or espouse these beliefs, Tony?

  • Tony||

    You got me. As with most so-called moral issues, politicians tend to lag way behind public sentiment.

  • Tony||

    But good luck finding someone in favor of drug policy reform in Congress who's not a liberal.

  • Jersey Patriot||

    Ron Paul and Jeff Flake. Too easy.

  • ||

    Way too easy. Those names flashed through my mind before I completed Tony's sentence.

    But surely you know that as libertarian-leaning republicans, those two people don't count to people like Tony.

  • Tony||

    They don't count period. Ron Paul is a genuine kook, though I'd take him over the psychotic kooks that make up the rest of his party.

  • ||

    Called it. Knew it.

    You ignore reality to support your propositions. YOU ARE THE ONE WHO SAID, and I quote, "But good luck finding someone in favor of drug policy reform in Congress who's not a liberal." So we did. Ron Paul, by your own admission, is NOT A LIBERAL. So you agree, right? Oh, you don't. "They don't count period." Ha.

    Intellectual dishonesty is your expertise.

  • Old Mexican||

    Good luck finding anyone in Congress that supports all individual rights (life, liberty, property) who is a liberal.

  • MattXIV||

    Ron Paul? His take on it is more federalism-based that rights based, but he's at least as good on the matter as any congressional Democrat.

    Also, a right to use psychoactive substances includes flavored cigarettes and non-FDA approved compounds. A lot of liberals who do favor legalization only favor it for substances they personally don't disapprove of people using. I've meet quite a few who wanted to free the weed but thought tobacco smokers should have to live under the overpass with the sex offenders.

  • John Markley||

    MattXIV,

    Precisely. Liberals generally define "freedom" the same way right-wing theocrats define it: "The freedom to live the way I do."

  • ||

    "The freedom to live the way I dotell you to."

    FTFY

  • Tony||

    Liberals view such things from a public health perspective. But they do need to realize that moves toward prohibition tend to be counterproductive. It's easier to ban things, especially when the industry making those things donates to the other party, than to, oh I dunno, say, create a public health infrastructure that can deal with addiction.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Liberals view such things from a public health perspective.

    Nope. Liberals love the war on drugs, because war is the health of the state.

    -jcr

  • j r||

    Liberals put a premium on equality. Not equality under the law... but equality of wealth and status.

    this is only half right. liberals tend to be in favor greater equality when it comes to wealth, but greater hierarchy when it comes to status. in fact, i would say that this is why many liberals have an anti-market bias: markets tend to link status to wealth.

    in the criminal justice context, this explains liberal attitudes towards things like hate crimes and affirmative action. they create special and protected classes of people and actions. This is a hierarchy that can be centrally controlled by bureacrats and intellectuals rather than be evaluated on an individual basis by a decentralized legal system.

  • Tony||

    It's more like equality of opportunity. Yes, there is a difference between liberals and authoritarian communists.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tony,

    The difference is one of degree, not of principles.

    Both Communists and liberals are not kind to individual rights, at all - what makes them different is the level of scruples.

  • Tony||

    I don't know where you get this. Individual rights is central to being a liberal. We just believe that rights should actually mean something and that you have them whether you have money or not.

  • ||

    "I don't know where you get this. Individual rights is central to being a liberal."

    Colossal drivel.

    Every other conversation I have with a liberal--probably most but I'm trying to be fair--ends up with the liberal admitting to me that if the majority vote that the rights of the few must be destroyed, that it shall be. That is not individual rights, Tony, that is dictatorship of the majority, and woe to me if I am very unpopular to that majority. This is why many of us see it as mob rule and why we view the personality cults who support direct democracy with great suspicion.

    "We just believe that rights should actually mean something and that you have them whether you have money or not."

    Ah, but there you are on the same ground as the libertarians who believe your rights are inviolate whatever the supposed reason or force to take them from you, or at least you would be on the same ground if you really believed that. I don't think you do. If you did, you wouldn't support the things I've seen you support here.

    Here's the big difference Tony, in case you don't get it by now:

    I would never call for or support any state or federal policy or any de facto tyrant de jure to deprive you of your rights, for any reason, if you have not harmed another. "No victim; no crime", I say.

    But you would condone that my rights are violated--and you do--when you support those state or federal policies that would deprive me of my right to live free of your intrusion in my life. You would support the alteration of the terms of my life if the majority supports it. If that's what you call 'individual rights meaning something' then I am afraid conflict is inevitable between people like me and people like you: You will always be trying to control me and I will always be rejecting it.

    My way is easier. And more polite.

  • ||

    My way is easier. And more polite.

    And sportsmanlike.

  • Tony||

    Every other conversation I have with a liberal--probably most but I'm trying to be fair--ends up with the liberal admitting to me that if the majority vote that the rights of the few must be destroyed, that it shall be. That is not individual rights, Tony, that is dictatorship of the majority, and woe to me if I am very unpopular to that majority. This is why many of us see it as mob rule and why we view the personality cults who support direct democracy with great suspicion.

    Liberals are advocates of mob rule? I don't know which ones you know but that's nonsense. Liberals are the people who brought us and continue to bring us minority rights, if you'll recall. You know those people who supported--and continue to support as among its highest tenets--the rights of women, racial minorities, disabled persons, and gays.

    What you're complaining about is the concept of democracy--in any form--when it doesn't give you everything you want. Without some form of majority rule then we'd be stuck with the alternatives, all of which suck worse.

    You want to enjoy the benefits of the civilization your rule-by-the-people government protects? Then you have to abide by the rules the people set. That's how any functioning group of people works no matter how small or large. You should be thankful those rules include provisions for minority rights--which would not exist if not for liberals--exist at all and you don't live at the whim of an autocrat. Most people aren't so lucky.

  • ||

    "What you're complaining about is the concept of democracy--in any form--when it doesn't give you everything you want."

    Tripe.

    "You should be thankful those rules include provisions for minority rights--which would not exist if not for liberals--exist at all and you don't live at the whim of an autocrat."

    More tripe.

    The classical liberal, men of the Enlightenment, gave us that concept as embodied in our founding documents. The shitsplatter you support today is utterly unlike what you claim it to be.

  • ReAnimator||

    You know those people who supported--and continue to support as among its highest tenets--the rights of women, racial minorities, disabled persons, and gays.

    And if those rights require the State to steal from or limit the rights of another person...tough shit? Right? There's a big difference between rights and entitlements. Liberals don't seem to acknowledge this.

  • ||

    A classical liberal, maybe. Not what passes for liberal today.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Individual rights is central to being a liberal.

    What a load of unmitigated crap. Liberalism is all about denying individual rights for the ostensible benefit of the collective (of course in practice, it's for the benefit of the non-producers.)

    -jcr

  • John Markley||

    j r,

    A good and frequently underappreciated point. I think one of the things that sustains the belief of left-wing intellectuals that they are altruistic while people in business are selfish is that they (the intellectuals)think in crudely material terms and see money and "stuff" as the only form of gain. Thus, their own hunger for prestige, status, and social dominance (as well as other things like influence, power, revenge, satisfaction of envy, etc.) don't register to them as a form of self-interest, and possessing them is not seen as a form of wealth that should be redistributed. Which is, of course, an enormously convenient thing for people who value status over money to believe.

  • Alice Bowie||

    !!! Keep Dope Alive !!!

    Conservatives want to "SELECTIVELY" prosecute those who take drugs.

  • Barney Frank||

    Fank God!

  • Teh System||

    You can be prosecuted twice for what is essentially the same crime.

    If you're prosecuted twice, how can it possibly be for the same crime?

    For a site called "Reason" ...

  • Alice Bowie||

    You can be prosecuted at the local, county, state, and federal level for the ONE CRIME.

    Happens all of the time.

  • ||

    No, only on the state and federal level. Local, county, and state prosecution would all be prosecution by the same sovereign, which is the state. Prosecution by the feds, on the other hand, is prosecution by a different sovereign, and is thus considered OK under the double jeopardy clause.

    (You can also be prosecuted by two or more states for the same crime. For example, if you fire a rifle from your sniper's nest in Virginia and kill someone in Maryland, both states can prosecute you for murder. I presume that if states were still prosecuting people for obscenity, all 50 states could prosecute you for operating a porn website that was accessible nationwide.)

  • Alice Bowie||

    Thank u. I did not know that.

  • Mad Max||

    'But good luck finding someone in favor of drug policy reform in Congress who's not a liberal.'

    My luck must be very good, indeed.

    I found this guy, and a resolution from the Republican Liberty Caucus (see Section 13.0).

  • LarryA||

    What neither Rs or Ds understand is that when you give the government the power to do unto others, sooner or later the government will use that power to do unto you.

  • Old Mexican||

    But libertarians and conservatives part ways on consensual crimes and individual rights,

    This is not limited to a conservative-libertarian divide. Statists of every ilk (Conservative and LIberal) will support limits on individual rights so long as these limits serve their own agendas, such as:

    - Making people perfect (the old Progressive goal of creating a Heaven on Earth);
    - Making people subservient to the State (the new Progressive goal of making people serve the State.)

    Like the Duchess said: People are either free or they are not. There are no gradations of freedom.

  • ||

    What, there's no Freedom Lite?

    I thought that was an ingredient in both Hope(R) and Change(TM).

  • ||

    Best explanatory piece ever, Radley.

    Heritage and the people who have worked there over the years—such as former Reagan administration Attorney General Ed Meese—should acknowledge their own contributions to the vast expansion of police powers over the last quarter century instead of merely blaming the overcriminalization problem on the left...[b]ut it's also unfortunate that some liberal outlets...have attacked Heritage with the very sort of soft-on-crime accusations traditionally employed by the law-and-order right.

    What goes around comes around, both ways.

    And the continuing distraction of the ongoing left/right tug-o-war is the reason that no meaningful discussion of individual rights ever occurs.

    You can be prosecuted twice for what is essentially the same crime.

    Yes, but it's always been so since both the federal government and the several states (and commonwealths) are both sovereign entities under the law. MD:IANAL.

  • ||

    I disagree with your characterization of the liberal view of the justice system. It would be fairer to say that equality is a focus of liberals' criticisms of the justice system. That is to say, we don't believe the justice system exists to promote equality; but we object when we see the system reinforcing and entrenching inequality.

  • CatoTheElder||

    The diagram is wrong.

    The correct illustration would be like a color circle with all three circles intersecting on a core set of liberties and a larger intersection of conservatives and (American) liberals outside of the libertarian circle.

    Of course, the most obvious example of the latter is the failure of Obama and Dem Congress to completely repeal Patriot Act and similar legislation.

    Somebody might argue that the this failure reflects a trace of conservatism in the leftist extreme of America. Okay, but name a single American liberal that opposes asset forfeiture or free government access to individual banking records or medical records. Conservatives and liberals certainly agree on these egregious intrusions on individual liberty.

  • ||

    I am a Liberal, and I think Prohibition (and all the attendant travesties like asset forfeiture) is morally wrong.

    It's telling that you imply that Obama is on the extreme left when he's obviously a centrist. I will celebrate when the Democrats nominate an actual Liberal, but I'm not holding my breath.

    These threads are full of Libertarians discussing what Liberals believe and tut-tutting like a bunch of hens. The problem is that Liberals are all individuals (like Libertarians), and don't all believe in the same set of principles. I would go so far as to say that there are probably half a dozen true Liberals in Congress. So when you conflate Liberalism with the Democratic Party you are displaying your assumptions, not reality.

  • BakedPenguin||

    That is to say, we don't believe the justice system exists to promote equality;

    That's true; that's what modern liberals think the legislative and executive branches are for.

  • Hormonal Redhead||

    Great article, Radley. I actually like the diagram. Sure, it doesn't point out the extra dimension of stateism vs. individualism, but it's simple enough to get the basic idea across.

    I'm printing this out for my lefty husband, so maybe he'll understand a little more where I'm coming from politically. It's funny - he considers himself a diehard Trotskyite, but lately he's been griping about "gun-grabbers" and "the nanny state." Now if I can just get him to understand that the socialism he loves so much IS the ultimate nanny state. . .

  • TheNino85||

    I really don't understand why so many at Reason seem hell-bent on portraying libertarianism as some form of moderate political philosophy. It is a political philosophy of the (American) right. Policy advisers in government who are libertarian are always part of Republican administrations, and without fail candidates who identify as libertarian are either independent, Libertarian, or Republican, never Democrat, Socialist, or Green. Furthermore, libertarian pundits always run in right-wing circles and not in left-wing circles. It's true that it's *not* conservatism, but it shares a helluva lot more with conservatism than it ever will with liberalism. Yet so many people want to make Venn diagrams where it borrows equally from both sides of the political aisle. No, it doesn't. It is a creature of the right, its fundamental concepts are right-wing, and its language makes sense only when viewed through right-wing definitions of freedom, liberty, equality, etc (example: using the word "liberty" mainly to refer to negative liberties instead of positive liberties.) The liberal and the libertarian see things in completely different ways. Even when they agree on the words, the underlying reasons and rationales are different. Whereas libertarians and conservatives (I'm referring to real conservatives here, not the "new" big government conservatives who are liberals who love Jesus) do fight a lot, but at the core, on many issues they're basically speaking the same language; they're just violently squabbling on the specifics.

    Also, is it just me, or did the article never actually disprove that there is no libertarian-conservative alliance? It threw a lot of crap at the Heritage Foundation (granted, most of it deserved), but it never actually showed that there is no alliance forming.

  • zoltan||

    I'm referring to real conservatives here

    when there's like, five of those left then nah

  • ||

    Makes sense. Maybe that's why the right wing despises libertarians even more than the left. Maybe that's why the GOP used all its resources to marginalize and ridicule Ron Paul. Libertarianism is anything but "right wing".

  • Agent Provacateur||

    Libertarians and liberals tend to agree, then, that the drug war disproportionately harms the poor and certain minority groups. We agree on the absurdity of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparities.

    Who pushed the crack/powder sentencing disparity through (an overwhelmingly Democrat-controlled) Congress?
    "Conservatives" like Tip O'Neil and Charlie Rangel,IIRC.

  • ||

    Interesting article, but where do the (mostly) religiously motivated conservatives fit in, what with their obsession over who sticks what into whom (and what to do about the sometime product of opposite sex coupling)?

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    You want to enjoy the benefits of the civilization your rule-by-the-people government protects? Then you have to abide by the rules the people set. That's how any functioning group of people works no matter how small or large. You should be thankful those rules include provisions for minority rights--which would not exist if not for liberals--exist at all and you don't live at the whim of an autocrat. Most people aren't so lucky.

    Tony, honestly, you're fine for your first three sentences. But what you don't acknowledge in your comment is that most of what you define as "minority rights" could be defined alternately as "individual rights." You seem on the verge of acknowledging this distinction (if not outright acknowledging it), that sometimes what's defined as 'individual rights' comes into conflict with the 'tyranny of the majority' if not other forms of tyranny. Ideally, I think, you'd agree that not even popular support should be permitted to erode 'individual rights' (any moreso than other forms of tyranny), which you here associate with certain 'minorities'. (I realize that there are philosophical debates about what these individual rights consist of in particular, but the Bill of Rights provides some clues both individually and in the aggregate).

    You seem to suggest (and this idea is compatible with libertarianism), that someone's individual rights can't be deprived due merely to their association with or inclusion in some minority group.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    This tension at times resembles the tension between the philosophies of holism and reductionism.

  • ReAnimator||

    You're missing Tony's point. Liberals don't care about protecting the rights of any minority, they want to protect THESE minorities. Blacks, gays, women, the handicapped and the poor (I understand the contradictory nature of this). The liberal definition of "minority" is someone other than the rich. It makes them feel warm and fuzzy to protect these groups by hammering the rich with as many taxes as possible. The rights of the individual don't mean anything to a collectivist. The left-wing definition of equality isn't government treating people the same, but rather forcing them to become the same by taking from one group and transferring it to another until it sucks equally for everybody.

  • ||

    Funny how you libertarians don't mention the role of prison privatization in this whole overcriminalization problem. When will you admit profit is maybe not always a good thing, especially when it can encourage the locking up and railroading of fellow citizens?

    It's amazing to me this nation has drank the free-market koolaid so deeply we would even fucking CONSIDER private prisons, let alone allow them.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Hmmm, let's see...if the WoD didn't create such perverse incentives, there's probably be no need for privatized prisons. "Free-market Kool-Aid?" It seems to me that both Team Red and Team Blue benefit from this setup.

  • ||

    Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm against the war on drugs, as is anyone else who considers themselves a "liberal".

    It seems like the root of the problem is the private sector's ability to lobby the government, allowing it to subvert democracies to get laws passed that are to it's benefit. In the specific case of privatized prisons, the private prison industry's effects on government center on influencing criminal law and the courts, those being the main avenues towards funneling more people into prisons for longer stretches of time.

    Methinks if a private prison industry were not allowed to exist in the first place, what with it being the only type of business that profits from denying others' freedom, this net negative effect on overall liberty (i.e. the WoD, mandatory minimums, etc.) would not have been realized.

    Which means it is probably in the best interests of freedom and goodness to not take such an orthodox view towards free markets.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    What you're saying has merit, I think. But I will still insist that the relationship between intrusive government and the prison-industrial complex could be described as symbiotic, even heterarchical.

    Good point. Libertarianism does not have all the answers (no political philosophy does and I think in a weird way, Godel would agree). You may have pointed out a blind spot in libertarian dogma.

  • ||

    LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and their libertarian allies do frequently decry the "prison industrial complex".

  • Jess||

    Nino,

    These folks are concerned with the actions that government takes, not with who those concerns ally them. Being more concerned with "right-wing", "left-wing", and "alliances" is common across the political spectrum, but it does mark you as shallow.

  • ||

    The drug war since the Whiskey Rebellion, has traditional been a left wing issue. I don't know when republicans became anti-capitalist corporatist(ie neo-socialist) nanny stater wimps, but I do wish they would get a pair and clear out all the anti-citizen legislation they and the democrats have saddled us with.

  • Criminal Law||

    Excellent article, Radley! The visual helps a lot.

    I agree with Alice Bowee's comment above.

  • abercrombie milano||

    My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I'm sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won't get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there's more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I'm not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It's just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight..

  • Domain Flipping||

    I have no idea what this article is about, im just here to post a link back to a site! haha!

  • دردشة||

    thanks

  • nike shox||

    is good

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