Republican Convention 2016

RNC Platform Awkwardly Embraces Some Criminal Justice Reforms—and New Mandatory Minimums

The Republican platform "applauds" recent state reforms but also continues the party's support for the death penalty and mandatory minimums.



The 2016 Republican Party platform, approved at the party's national convention in Cleveland on Monday, embraces many of the state-level criminal justice reforms enacted by GOP governors in recent years. But it also continues the party's support for the death penalty and mandatory minimums for violent crimes.

In a lengthy section, the Republican Party applauds the state-level reforms signed into law by GOP governors in states like Texas, Georgia, and Alaska. But it also says mandatory minimum sentences are "an important tool" in keeping prisoners off the streets:

We applaud the Republican Governors and legislators who have been implementing criminal justice reforms like those proposed by our 2012 platform. Along with diversion of first-time, nonviolent offenders to community sentencing, accountability courts, drug courts, veterans treatment courts, and guidance by faithbased institutions with proven track records of rehabilitation, our platform emphasized restorative justice to make the victim whole and put the offender on the right path. As variants of these reforms are undertaken in many states, we urge the Congress to learn from what works. In the past, judicial discretion about sentences led to serious mistakes concerning dangerous criminals. Mandatory minimum sentencing became an important tool for keeping them off the streets. Modifications to it should be targeted toward particular categories, especially nonviolent offenders and persons with drug, alcohol, or mental health issues, and should require disclosure by the courts of any judicial departure from the state's sentencing requirements."

However, that language is a softening of sorts from the party's 2012 platform, which plainly stated the GOP's support for "mandatory prison sentencing for gang crimes, violent or sexual offenses against children, repeat drug dealers, rape, robbery and murder."

True to form, the RNC's 2016 platform calls for new mandatory minimum sentences "for all assaults involving serious injury to law enforcement officers," echoing GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who recently introduced such a bill in Congress. U.S. News and World Report reported last week that the mandatory sentences created by the bill could send thousands to federal prison a year.

Republicans also took time in their platform to bash the Justice Department for its "refusal to enforce laws"—presumably a reference to its hands-off approach to state marijuana legalization—and its handling of protests. The platform goes so far as to call for prosecution of Justice Department officials.

"[The Justice Department] has urged leniency for rioters while turning a blind eye to mob attacks on peaceful citizens exercising their political rights," the platform says. "A new administration must ensure the immediate dismissal and, where appropriate, prosecution of any Department officials who have violated their oath of office."

(The GOP platform only mentions marijuana once in a section on drug abuse, noting that it "is virtually legalized despite its illegality under federal law." In the 2012 GOP platform, marijuana legalization was not mentioned at all.)

The Republican Party also reiterated its support for the death penalty. The constitutionality of the death penalty, the 2016 platform says, "is firmly settled."

"With the murder rate soaring in our great cities, we condemn the Supreme Court's erosion of the right of the people to enact capital punishment in their states," the platform reads.

The platform also includes a call for mens rea reform, which would add intent requirements to many federal crimes and regulations. Currently, much of the expansive federal code does not require that defendant have knowledge that he or she is breaking a law.

The issue has become a sticking point in the otherwise bipartisan effort to pass criminal justice reform in Congress. Liberal lawmakers, joined by groups like the ACLU and the Center for American Progress, argue that the additions would let white collar criminals and corporations off the hook, while conservatives say lack of mens rea requirements results in unwitting citizens having their livelihood after running afoul of the massive amount of criminal offenses on the books.

"The over-federalization of criminal justice is one of many ways in which the government in Washington has intruded beyond its proper jurisdiction," the platform says. "The essential role of federal law enforcement personnel in protecting federal property and combating interstate crime should not be compromised by diversion to matters properly handled by state and local authorities."

Overall, the RNC platform gives a Christian side hug to many of the planks supported by the conservative side of the criminal justice reform movement, while doggedly continuing its insistence that the death penalty, federal drug prohibition, and mandatory minimums are appropriate and effective deterrents to crime.

NEXT: RNC Foreign Policy Platform: More Spending, Things Are Awful, Obama Sucks

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  1. But it also continues the party’s support for the death penalty and mandatory minimums for violent crimes.

    Does it continue cop-sucking, too?

  2. Republicans also took time in their platform to bash the Justice Department for its “refusal to enforce laws”?presumably a reference to its hands-off approach to state marijuana legalization

    Not a reference to the handling of classified data?

  3. Well it’s an improvement I guess. “Drug courts” have never been proven effective and in fact studies show they often result in even longer sentences when the defendant turns up ‘dirty’. Just today Popehat did a nice piece on how the police use ‘mental illness’ to frame innocent people with drug crimes. He describes a case of a guy with “a record of falsely implicating others in crimes and a pattern of blaming mental illness for his conduct against fellow students”.

  4. “for all assaults involving serious injury to law enforcement officers,”

    And I imagine that what constitutes a serious injury will be farmed out to the local FOP.

  5. OT (though it has a criminal-justice angle)

    Yale worker who smashed stained glass window depicting slaves working in the cotton fields wants his job back

    “Corey Menafee, 38, used a broomstick to knock glass panel to the ground

    “The glass panel showed two slaves picking cotton in the field in a dormitory named after former Vice President John C Calhoun

    “Calhoun was a white supremacist and notorious advocate for slavery

    “Menafee resigned after the incident but is now asking for his job back

    “He is in meetings with university officials to discuss his future

    “After Menafee broke the glass, the school issued a statement saying it would remove glass panels depicting Calhoun

    “The dorm’s dining hall will also be renamed after an African American alum

    “Other stained glass window titled ‘Negro with watermelon’ was removed from the school’s library in the 1990s after employees complained…

    “Menafee, could face one to five years in prison along with a fine up to $5,000 for criminal mischief.

    “The reckless endangerment charge [because the glass fell on a passerby] carries a sentence up to two years in addition to fines up to $1,000.

    “The college will not push for prosecution or seek restitution for the glass, a spokesperson said.”

    1. I agree with the guy, it’s offensive. But a little backstory – Calhoun is universally regarded as a racist, and they’ve long discussed changing the name of the building. Ironically, it was black professors who resisted, claiming that the name should stay to remind people of the college’s racist past. So as per usual, it is a conflict within the black community. Personally, I think they should change the name. And personally, I think they should drop charges against the guy. I can understand how he’d feel. Though if he injured someone then well I could be persuaded.

      1. He was pushing against an open door – or window. Except the university would hopefully have had workers carefully remove the glass so it didn’t fall on anyone.

        Anyway, the cotton-picking stained glass could, instead of being shattered, have been transferred to a secret Room of Forbidden Art in the library, along with the Necronomicon, Tintin in Africa, Mein Kampf, etc. People with a demonstrated research need, as certified by a department head, would have been able to examine the material in the Room of Forbidden Art.

  6. I’d mount his mount his trunk.*

    *In this scenario the trunk is his penis. Meaning, I would climb on top of his penis. As in, I would engage in homosexual relations with this cherubic fellow in suspenders. He would be my tusk-waving angel.

  7. The platform also includes a call for mens rea reform, which would add intent requirements to many federal crimes and regulations. Currently, much of the expansive federal code does not require that defendant have knowledge that he or she is breaking a law.

    Clearly, new guy, you are wrong. American justice is famous for requiring intent as opposed to prosecuting mere extreme carelessness.

  8. A good percentage of ‘conservatives’ I know, are fully on board with giving pot fiends long prison sentences. This is the new America, where the corrupt politicians have won.

  9. At least the old fat guy with the elephant on his head had the courtesy to keep his clothes on during the convention.

    1. Looks like he could be Welch’s dad …

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