Debates

When Will Criminal Justice Reform Take Center Stage at a GOP Debate?

Don't let the Left own this issue. They've been terrible.

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Credit: OregonDOT / photo on flickr

Sen. Rand Paul spoke the least of any candidate at last night's GOP debate, Robby Soave noted. That may have partly been because one of Paul's pet issues barely had any presence at last night's debate. Criminal justice reform was barely touched upon last night, only in the context of police abuse and minorities, and the questions were directed to Gov. Scott Walker (who called it a training issue) and Ben Carson (who didn't like people making it all about race). Paul was left having to press his own credibility in his closing statement, mentioning visiting cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of controversial police-related incidents

Chalk it up to it being an early debate with some high-profile stories (Iran and abortion) dominating the headlines right now. It is nevertheless disappointing to see how little impact these issues had in the debate given that it's been a consistent political—and more importantly, bipartisan—focus of discussion.

On a federal level, three criminal reform issues would be great subjects to tackle in the Republican debates:

  • Federal Sentencing Reform: Paul has the obvious advantage here as a sponsor of the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would abolish federal mandatory minimums for federal crimes. He has won praise from President Barack Obama for his efforts, so it would be interesting if a candidate used that against him, the way Paul attempted to use Gov. Chris Christie's chummy dealings with the president against him.
  • Asset Forfeiture Reform: If anything on the criminal justice reform menu should appeal to conservatives, it should be the idea that the government can't just seize your property without convicting you of a crime. But it happens on all levels of the government: federal, state, and municipal. Significantly, the Department of Justice's lax Equitable Sharing Program allows local law enforcement agencies to state-level restrictions on forfeiture. In a completely separate area, the IRS abuses asset forfeiture regulations to go after small businesses over the way they deposit cash. Fixing these problems requires some federal leadership. Again, Paul is the frontrunner in reform here, but every Republican candidate should be jumping at the opportunity to at least promise to rein in IRS misbehavior.
  • Police Militarization: Can Republicans set aside the idea that enforcing the law in America is yet another type of war? The Obama administration has scaled back some transfer of military equipment to law enforcement agencies. Which candidates are willing to step forward and speak out against police militarization and the federal government's involvement? Which candidates buy in to the police's insistence on using SWAT raids for purposes far beyond the reasons they were created, even when it results in harm to innocent people (and dogs)?

Those are just a couple of options presented because reforms require action on the federal level. This isn't even getting into reforming marijuana laws or letting the states decide how to deal with marijuana (or even other drugs) themselves.

All the candidates, not just Paul, should be pushing for these domestic issues to be brought up in the debate. Why? Because, despite the stereotype of the Republican as the "tough on crime" party, the Democrats have historically been just as bad. Hillary Clinton is not the savior of poor minorities who have been dragged into our federal prison system with disproportionate sentences. She was once a supporter of such a system. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's pro-drug-war reputation has prompted "black lives matter" hecklers.

Criminal justice reform is not a subject to leave Democratic leaders to claim. They certainly have not earned it. Candidates thinking about where the election is heading after the primaries need to be planning to discuss these issues. 

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  1. It won’t

    1. I agree, we will never get those government assholes to do the right thing. A police state benefits pigs, persecutors, rubber stamp judges, and other government workers, by creating more jobs for them. And our civil justice system is bull as well. If a person trips in your yard and sprains an ankle, the personal injury lawyers will then own your home. Its our jackpot by judge and jury system. It is for the personal injury crooks, by the personal injury crooks! Just look at all those ambulance chasing, jerkoff lawyers, on television begging people to sue for nothing. By suing, people only benefit the scum bag lawyer. The lawyer takes 90% plus expenses.

  2. No.

    You’d think this would be obvious.

  3. There is no desire on the part of the establishment (which includes Fox News) to have a serious discussion on these topics.

    1. If everyone would just conform and comply then there would be no reason to even have a serious discussion!

      1. Stop resisting!

    2. Agreed. Some of the commentators like Bill O’Reilley, just love the idea of living in a police state.

  4. This is one of those bipartisan issues that is even worse on the Republican side (save for, of course, the Pauls, Massies, and Amashs out there).

    It’s like hoping the Democrats will get better on taxes and spending.

  5. Soft on crime? Never.

  6. “Hillary Clinton is not the savior of poor minorities who have been dragged into our federal prison system with disproportionate sentences. She was once a supporter of such a system.”

    So were various black politicians and activists. Do you recall how white Indifference was encouraging black-on-black crime? Criminals who Preyed on the Community were getting unduly-lenient sentences because whitey simply didn’t care. So we were told.

    Remember Lethal Weapon II, where the cocaine trade was [SPOILER ALERT] run by racist white South Africans who were so evil that [SPOILER ALERT] they deserved to die violent deaths?

    Now history is getting rewritten so that these excessive drug sentences were a plot by the KKK and, I suppose, the white South Africans?

    1. Oh, and don’t forget Part 3, where [SPOILER ALERT] Murtaugh goes after the black criminals, accusing them of “genocide” and threatening to kill them unless they spill the beans on their associates?

      That was the climate.

      1. Here ya go – about working- and middle- class black support for tough drug penalties, 1960s and 1970s:

        http://www.wnyc.org/story/3128…..dismantle/

        1. “This timeline illustrates the surprising story of how many prominent black Americans ? including writers, poets, civil rights activists, elected officials, clergy, and their close allies in the Democratic Party? frequently supported the drug war, despite growing misgivings and controversy.

          “Our research also found evidence of significant if sporadic opposition to the drug war within the conservative white community, which seemed to inform the larger discussion in interesting ways. That, too, is documented here.”

          http://prisontime.org/2013/08/…..CqzSM.dpuf

          1. The above article refers to “Black America’s surprising 40-year support for the Drug War.”

            But what’s surprising about it?

            We talk about white soccer moms demanding high drug penalties to protect their kids from the dealers and pushers. Well, there were dealers and pushers in black neighborhoods, too, and why couldn’t the black soccer moms and dads react the same way as the white ones to the same set of circumstances?

            1. I’m going to guess that Rand will have to persudin’ to do in the black community, not just the white, in order to sell the benefits of reduced drug sentences.

            2. why couldn’t the black soccer moms and dads react the same way as the white ones to the same set of circumstances?

              Because there are no black “soccer moms”? I think maybe you meant basketball moms. Is that racist?

            3. Whether black or white, green or purple, here’s what WAY too often is the summary scoop:
              YOUR kid gets busted with dope? Throw the book at him!
              MY kid gets busted with dope? Just fell momentarily, he did, into bad company…
              Lemme spring the big bucks for expensive lawyers… If I am rich enough…
              Lemme play all my political connections, if I have any… MY kid is GOOD!
              And let’s just all keep electing war-on-drugs fascist pigs!!!
              (‘Cause my self-righteousness is SACRED).

            4. Well back then definitely. Black soccer dads and moms did largely support a War on Drugs. However as the timeline from the late 90s to now shows that has now changed. This is do to the fact that there was the appearance of police forces going after minorities much harder than white drug users. This perception of unfairness on top of the fact that black kids were ending with records for things like smoking a joint, (something they themselves did back in college with white friends), has only continued to force a dramatic changes in perceptions on the War on Drugs in the black community. I highly doubt that today you’ll be able find a major poll that shows a majority of support for the War on Drugs in the black community. The fact that D.C., a majority black district, legalized pot is a testament to this change in attitudes.

  7. How’s never? Is never good for you?

  8. What’s in it for the GOP? The people who might be concerned most are never going to vote Republican.

  9. It amuses (and saddens) me that writers even at Reason seem to implicitly buy into the myth that the Republican Party is the party of smaller government less-authoritarian rule. Both parties are hellbent on expanding the scope and depth of government power. They differ only in their preferred methods and priorities. Given the choice between moralistic militarism and condescending benevolence, I choose neither.

  10. This is the Stupid Party.

  11. When Will Criminal Justice Reform Take Center Stage at a GOP Debate?

    Never. The GOP leadership knows that those issues play right into Rand Paul’s wheelhouse, and they can’t have that. I think they’d rather lose the general election with Trump, Jeb, or anyone else than risk someone who’s actually in favor of reducing the size, scope, and power of the federal government get into the white house.

    1. yeah that’s probably right. reducing the size of the government hurts ALL politicians. this isn’t a partisan issue.

  12. The left can’t make Criminal Justice Reform their issue–because the worst abuses are perpetrated by the left on behalf of their public employee unions and especially their police unions.

    Meanwhile, the progressives in places like New York City aren’t even sure whether we should be allowed to drink sugary soft drinks–never mind marijuana legalization.

    When the Democrat machines that run so many cities north of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi are no longer controlled by police unions and such, then we’ll be in danger of Criminal Justice Reform becoming an issue for the left.

    In the meantime, the Democrats will continue trying to find more ways to criminalize more behavior.

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  16. If anyone watched Monday night’s candidate forum on C-SPAN (which I still think was a better presentation of the candidates in terms of policy discussion than Thursday’s debates ? 14 of the 17 were there or appeared remotely, interviewed in turn ?being C-SPAN, it should be on repeat rotation), both John Kasich and Chris Christie brought up criminal justice and specifically drug sentencing reform (in regards to what has been worked on in Ohio and New Jersey and their thoughts on national reform). Had Rand Paul not been one of the remote-from-Washington candidates (it was hard to tell whether the remote candidates could see/hear the location event like the other candidates in NH), he likely would have entered that dialogue in his own portions of the evening. Just from that ?at the first televised event with all the candidate invited ? I expected the topic *will* continue to be discussed, especially if Kasich continues holding on as a surprisingly insurgent latecomer like he’s become.

  17. Anyone expecting a serious push-back in either party on issues such as domestic spying and the militarization of law enforcement will continue to be disappointed. Members of the political class know that it serves their career interests to simply give lip service to civil rights while continuing to grant maximum power and secrecy to the professional thugs.

    Rand Paul is clearly the least-bad national candidate in either party on these issues, and even he’s afraid to call for cuts to the Pentagon or ending marijuana prohibition. If you really want to see the police state scaled back, you will have to support disruptive efforts outside the Washington establishment – as is being attempted, for example, by the BDS movement regarding Israel, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

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  19. I wish Paul would be more of a communicator on issues like these. Maybe it was just the format of the debate, with the moderators being very combative, that made Paul lean towards the confrontational side of things, but I hope in the future he takes the opportunity to eloquently state the reason he believes what he believes, and explain how his views are truly conservative principles. In a debate setting, he has the attention of voters who normally would not be inclined to vote for a libertarian leaning candidate. Explain why spending billions of dollars on foreign aid and the military are bad ideas when we have $18 trillion in debt. Try to teach the viewers the merits of your libertarian views from a conservative perspective.

  20. Agree with all but you left something out. That is the failure of the DOJ to pursue criminal charges in politically inconvenient cases. Examples are Fast and Furious, IRS targeting, Solyndra ripoff of stimulus funds, and Clinton emails.

    I’ve always advocated that the DOJ should be under the Judicial branch with an Attorney General elected by the people. The AG could not be fired by any branch of government. The AG could only be recalled by the people.

    1. Man,

      That is an excellent point. They never go after government crooks, like the IRS, Clinton, and the ATF.

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