Criminal Justice

GOP Aide Urges Republicans to Oppose Criminal Justice Reform Because ‘Drug Trafficking is a Violent Crime’

As votes loom on a package of criminal justice reform bills in the House, the old "tough-on-crime" canards are being trotted out again.

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Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom

Republican opponents of criminal justice reform legislation in Congress are invoking the rising violence in some major cities, as well as the supposed dangers of releasing drug traffickers, to derail efforts to overhaul federal sentencing laws expected to come up for a vote this month in the House.

A recent email obtained by Reason from a legislative aide to Rep. Louie Gohmert, a staunch Texas conservative, called on Gohmert's fellow lawmakers to reject a package of criminal justice reform bills in the House that would, among other things, roll back some federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

"It is well established that drug trafficking is a violent crime, for two different reasons: First, because drug dealing always creates victims—the users, especially those who become addicted to these poisons," the Aug. 31 email reads. "Second, drug trafficking is an inherently violent industry because drug dealers can't go to court to enforce drug debts, can't rely on police to protect their drug territory or shipping routes, and can't expand their business without violent clashes with rival traffickers and gangs."

The email mirrors rhetoric from the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys (NAAUSA), a group of prosecutors that has opposed sentencing reform efforts. A NAAUSA PowerPoint presentation was attached to the aide's email, purporting to show the dangers of releasing "violent" drug felons, how the rise in incarceration resulted in lower crime rates, and how rolling back mandatory minimums will reduce suspects' incentive to cooperate with prosecutors.

(As The New York Times reported last month, jury trials at the federal level are increasingly rare because of prosecutors' success in pushing defendants into plea deals, thanks in large part to the threat of a lengthy mandatory minimum sentence.)

September is likely the last chance for criminal justice reform advocates to get a major bill passed this year, and they began a final push late last week to sway on-the-fence lawmakers and fight back against the rhetoric of groups like the NAAUSA.

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and 42 other former prosecutors and law enforcement officials sent a letter Thursday to House leadership supporting the reform bills, saying that the legislative proposals "make modest, reasonable changes to the sentencing regime" that "will only improve the current regime—by amending just a few sentencing policies that produced unintended consequences and created imbalance in the scales of justice."

An aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan confirmed that Ryan recently met with criminal justice reform advocates as well. Ryan pledged earlier this year to give floor time to a package of criminal justice bills being passed through the House Judiciary Committee. Many of those bills are similar to provisions in a larger Senate bill, the revised Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which would expand so-called "safety valve" provisions that give judges discretion to impose lesser sentences than federal mandatory minimum guidelines. It would also eliminate mandatory life sentences for three-time, nonviolent drug offenders and make sentencing reductions for crack cocaine offenses—passed by Congress in 2010—apply retroactively, allowing some 5,800 federal prisoners to apply for reduced sentences.

The Senate bill, however, has languished since the beginning of the year, despite key compromises in April that eliminated some reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for firearm crimes and added new mandatory minimums for fentanyl offenses and interstate domestic abuse.

The libertarian-leaning advocacy group FreedomWorks, along with the evangelical Faith & Freedom Coalition, announced Thursday they will be scoring votes on three criminal justice bills, provided they aren't significantly changed, that are expected to come to the House floor this month: the Sentencing Reform Act, the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act, and the Criminal Code Improvement Act.

"Families and communities are the cornerstone of our nation, and our current justice system is tearing them apart," Faith & Freedom Coalition Executive Director Tim Head said in a statement. "Ninety-five percent of all incarcerated individuals eventually will re-enter society, and these bills will ensure that they have the resources they need to be productive citizens and avoid future pitfalls."

FreedomWorks and the Faith & Freedom both are part of the Coalition for Public Safety, a nonprofit umbrella organization that also includes the ACLU, NAACP, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Center for American Progress.

The coalition will also release polling later this month from battleground states gauging public support for criminal justice reform proposals. Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network, the coalition's advocacy arm, said the aim is to persuade on-the-fence lawmakers, such as New Hampshire GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and show them that "this not only makes for good governance but also good politics."

"I've never met a politician who didn't love a poll," Harris said.

In the meantime, the conservative criminal justice reform group Right on Crime held a briefing yesterday on Capitol Hill with state officials from red states that have instituted significant overhauls of their criminal justice systems.

"Conservative governors and state legislatures have led the charge and proved these reforms effective," FreedomWorks CEO Adam Brandon said in a statement. "States like Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina have taken the lead to implement policies that have cut incarceration rates, reduced recidivism, restored families, saved taxpayers money and preserved public safety. It's time for Congress to follow the lead of the states and move on reform measures."

FreedomWorks held a Facebook Live event with Sen. Mike Lee, one of the biggest Republican supporters of sentencing reforms, Thursday night to talk about the proposed bills.

Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly waiting on the House to pass its bills before he decides whether to bring the Senate version to a floor vote before a divided Republican caucus.

Harris said that, even if the House package passes, she doesn't expect the Senate to take up a bill—if it does at all—until the lame duck session after the election.

"I'm not sure what else we can do at this point," Harris said. "If a bill doesn't get across the finish line, it will be because of things outside our control, and it will be a great indictment of Washington."

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53 responses to “GOP Aide Urges Republicans to Oppose Criminal Justice Reform Because ‘Drug Trafficking is a Violent Crime’

  1. How the fuck is not being able to access legal protection something inherent in drugs? There is no way in which that makes sense.

    1. Drugs are magic to conservatives, just as guns are magic to leftists. Both magically cause people to do things.

      1. Yeah, familiarity seems to breed more acceptance than contempt. Like enough more it makes me wonder how that cliche became a cliche.

      2. That particular argument is more blatantly circular than usual though. Using “Drugs force people into crime to support their addiction” as an argument to continue prohibition is equally circular, but more subtly so.

        1. I have stumped many drug warriors by asking for some argument for drug prohibition that doesn’t apply to drugs. They usually resort to moral arguments. Like “Drugs are bad m’kay?”

          1. I have stumped many drug warriors by asking for some argument for drug prohibition that doesn’t apply to drugs.

            I think your second drugs was supposed to read guns?

            1. There you go, plenty would apply it to guns as well as drugs. There is, however, a cultural divide that leads many people to pick only one or the other.

              Mostly, one side thinks things like sex & drugs & rock & roll are dangerous because they’re attractive, because they’re enjoyable, while most people don’t enjoy using arms for violence. The other side thinks arms are dangerous because they are instruments of violence, even if few people are attracted to violence.

              1. Mystics fear drugs because of Demonic Possession, and the other looters fear guns because it’s easier to rob people after their right to keep and bear arms is infringed. So superstition and cowardly covetousness frame the divide, and love of death unites them in their hatred of freedom.

          2. You mean, that apply to something other than drugs? Be glad you don’t find many who aren’t stumped, because there are plenty of people who can & do that for other things. Of course they’re moral arguments, because all opinion comes down to that at some point.

          3. None of the arguments for the drug war work in relation to the drug war, so you’re setting the bar unreasonably high.

          4. Okay! Okay! Put down that frying pan!

        2. Eh, that sort of thing comes up a lot. An area’s prone to floods or fires, so increasingly stringent measures need to be undertaken to divert water or fires and/or have flood/fire-resistant construction standards. The marginal cost (all value being subjective of course) at each step is small compared to the horror of 0-basing the analysis.

    2. It is inherent in prohibition. When beer was a felony cops shot people in the back every day. Before long the civilians began shooting back and bagging prosecutors and federal agents at a steeply increasing rate. Senator Millard Tydings published “Before and After Prohibition” documenting murders perpetrated by “dry killers” and by 1930 the increase in dry agents, prosecutors–like McSwiggin–and their accomplices being gunned down rose so steeply that such statistics were carefully suppressed in 1931.

  2. So there’s violence inherent in selling drugs because it’s illegal, and therefore we need to keep it illegal.

    Recursive argument is recursive.

    1. Hardly anybody would use that as an argument for keeping them illegal, only as an argument for keeping them very illegal, maintaining high penalties & enforcement. The argument for keeping them illegal is that they’re so bad for people that the violence is worthwhile.

    2. Violence is needed to keep stuff illegal. In fact, Adam Smith referred to “the violence of law” back when druggies like George Washington and scofflaws like Patrick Henry dared to disobey.

  3. The Stupid party is stupid. News at 11.

  4. I keep reading lamentations about how many young men are opting out of the workforce.

    I wonder – and this is just spitballin’ here – if having a felony record might just make it a little more challenging to get a job. It’s almost as if prohibition does little more than create a giant class of criminals, fails to reduce use at all, and generally makes life shittier for everyone.

    Almost.

    1. This is why New York City has a law that precludes employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record. “Ban the Box” federally is the next logical step. You see, Tundra, “banning the box” still allows for high-levels of arrests and incarceration, but still makes it easy for those who have been in the system to gain employment.

      Problem solved. You’re welcome.

      1. “Ban the Box”? That’s a terrible idea, Crusty.

        Terrible.

      2. Simple workaround – don’t hire anyone with priz-tatts.

      3. Well as an employer, I’m inclined to discriminate against convicted felons where it concerns my property. But the fact that all sorts of crimes that have no victims are considered felonies, it cheapens the categorical distinction making it a nearly worthless basis to discriminate.

    2. Some job-seekers with self-respect do not see a bargaining position advantage in licking jackboots or pissing in Dixie cups. But speaking of mandatory minimums, Sarah, gorgeous and delightful daughter of a veteran DEA Special Agent Bill Fury, is accused of consuming and selling illegal drugs as well as possessing 31 grams of cocaine, 126 grams of pot, 29 ecstasy tablets and unspecified quantity of meth and 60 doses of a designer drug similar to LSD. So I want Baldy the Brave there to tell the Texas narc his daughter needs to spend decades in a prison cell–in person in a dark alley somewhere in the South side of El Paso or Sanantone. I’ll pay to watch it happen.

  5. No one chooses to become a drug addict

    In fact excessive drug use is now a common career choice among young people and they will pursue it for as long as they can get away with it. And then when they’re too old for that, they’ll say “I was an addict all along” and join a 12 Step group and start a career of abusing and exploiting other members for fun and profit.

    1. Don’t forget about the millions of people who’ve been (legally) prescribed SSRIs for depression, anxiety and associated maladies. You need to take those things every day and carefully wean yourself off because withdrawal is a bitch; SSIRs are a textbook example of an addictive substance.

  6. drug trafficking is an inherently violent industry because drug dealers can’t go to court to enforce drug debts, can’t rely on police to protect their drug territory or shipping routes, and can’t expand their business without violent clashes with rival traffickers and gangs

    Just think of all the opportunites that will arise when we invent “cigarette trafficking” and “sodapop trafficking”!

  7. OT: the Hillary pneumonia story is just sexist media bias.

    FDR had polio.

    I guess if you’re a man with a disease, you get elected 3 times, but if you’re a woman, oh noes.

    1. If you are a male scion of the old landed gentry of upstate New York who is bringing the hurt and putting immigrant nouveau riche upstart businessmen and tradesmen, you get reelected.

      1. Hmph. That is not upstate NY.

  8. And that’s why we love Republicans. They care about people.

  9. “Second, drug trafficking is an inherently violent industry because drug dealers can’t go to court to enforce drug debts, can’t rely on police to protect their drug territory or shipping routes, and can’t expand their business without violent clashes with rival traffickers and gangs.”

    I may have concussed myself when I banged my head on the desk.

    1. Oh you who place your faith in fire, in fire your faith shall be repaid! –Quicksilver

  10. It would be a pleasure if dim-bulb politicos didn’t demolish the English language to push their agenda.

  11. “Second, drug trafficking is an inherently violent industry because drug dealers can’t go to court to enforce drug debts, can’t rely on police to protect their drug territory or shipping routes, and can’t expand their business without violent clashes with rival traffickers and gangs.”

    Oh, Gomer, do you need to buy a clue? I’ll sell you one cheap. Hell, I’ll give you the first one for free, but you gotta pay for the next one.

  12. That is not upstate NY.

    Poughkeepsie’s not upstate?

    1. There’s no real definition. But since I grew up on Lake Ontario, I consider anything still in the orbit of NYC to be “downstate” and Poughkeepsie is definitely that.

    2. If it is too far to rationally commute to a civil service job in NYC than it qualifies as upstate NY. It was certainly upstate NY during FDR’s time.

      1. It’s on commuter rail. Downstate 🙂

        And hell, if anything, the trains were probably faster then than now. (Overregulation has made them heavier and slower over the years.)

  13. Both of Idiot Gohmert’s “points” would be mostly or completely mitigated if we legalized drugs.

    Most drug dealers don’t go into the business because they want to be violent or create “victims” (unless they’re legit sociopaths). They do so because for whatever reason that’s the only “job” opportunity they’re presented with and margins for black market narcotics, especially addictive ones, tend to be extremely high, high enough to risk jail time.

    1. sociopaths go into LE and politics, not commerce! even if it is illicit commerce, that just means they are risk taking entrepreneurs trying to bring a product or service to the market, that the market demands, which the actual sociopaths make illegal because of ………power, money, lust for violence, and sociopathy in general.

  14. Drug dealing always creates victims? Sure. So does alcohol dealing and lottery ticket dealing. So do casinos.

    There is no human right to be protected from yourself.

    The “it’s illegal because it’s violent because it’s illegal because it’s violent because it’s illegal” argument is so self-evidently dumb that it’s not even worth mocking.

  15. Our criminal justice system should be designed to serve the needs of criminals first, and not their actual or prospective victims. Law-abiding citizens should be made to suffer sharing living space with those who wronged them or or likely to wrong them in the future; it only makes sense. What affirmative right do I have to require that my neighbors not-want to rape, rob, poison, or kill me and my family? If I have a problem, I can easily sell my house, quit my job, and find new versions of both in a nice community that will accept me. It is not as though we have some magical system in place that proscribes certain kinds of conduct and prescribes consequences for engaging in said conduct, said consequences acting to prevent further injury to the larger population.

    Truly, it is the criminals, and not the victims, who are the ACTUAL victims.

  16. RE: GOP Aide Urges Republicans to Oppose Criminal Justice Reform Because ‘Drug Trafficking is a Violent Crime’

    The unwashed masses cannot have enough control over them. All crimes designated by The State are violent by nature. Allowing the little people to ingest and enjoy the drug of their choice is contrary to the demands of their obvious betters. Only the ruling elitist class enslaving the hoi poiloi are allowed to make decisions of what the untermenschen should enjoy. The masses are too stupid to know what is good for them and must be watched and disciplined every moment of the day. That is why the ruling elitist class is in charge. The ruling class elitist filth will make the life’s difficult and complex decisions for those who need their infinite wisdom on how to live life properly. Thankfully, our socialist slavers oppressing us daily know what to do to make our lives more miserable, less free and dependent on The State so we do not wander away from Uncle Sam’s plantation and engage in such horrific, dangerous and treacherous acts as thinking for ourselves. Drugs should never be taken for pleasure by the little people because it only makes them enjoy life more, relax after a hard day’s work and have the freedom to choose. Such nefarious acts are violence in themselves since those who take drugs to so without the blessing of The State and therefore must be ostracized and punished accordingly for the sake of the collective.

  17. Excellent! Death to hemp Kingpins was screeched by (I am ashamed to be of Texas) George Holy War Bush in many of his speeches preserved on the record. And who can forget the Klan taking over the Fairgrounds in Dallas back in the 1920s? I want those mystical bigots to confiscate more homes and bank accounts and crash the economy until posse comitati are paid a bounty for bringing in their bald scalps, and tar-and-feathering all who venture abroad wearing God’s Own Prohibitionist bumper stickers. If sending asset-looting cops out to murder kids and protecting them by mock trial from hanging, then scalping and feather-decorating–by exactly the same standard–are as peaceful and civil as the mandatory minimums and highway robbery conservatives want braver men to engage in on their behalf.

  18. More un Constitutional bull shit from the party of unlimited government .

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  22. “It is well established that drug trafficking is a violent crime, for two different reasons: First, because drug dealing always creates victims?the users, especially those who become addicted to these poisons,” the Aug. 31 email reads. “Second, drug trafficking is an inherently violent industry because drug dealers can’t go to court to enforce drug debts, can’t rely on police to protect their drug territory or shipping routes, and can’t expand their business without violent clashes with rival traffickers and gangs.”

    1. So I willingly put a substance I willingly paid for into my body, and I’m a victim? Right.

    2. It’s violent because it’s illegal so we have to keep it illegal because it’s violent. That’s some dizzying logic right there.

    1. Its almost like he doesn’t understand what “inherently” means

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