Criminal Justice

Kamala Harris Is So 'Radical,' Trump's Campaign Says, That She Criticized Joe Biden's Criminal Justice Record. So Does Trump.

Harris and Trump are both right that the Democratic nominee has a long record of championing draconian penalties.


President Donald Trump's re-election campaign, which is depicting Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.), Joe Biden's vice presidential pick, as "far left" and "radical," was quick to note that the senator has criticized her running mate's draconian record on criminal justice issues. Yet so have the Trump campaign and the president himself, which makes it hard to tell whether this point is meant to reflect badly on Harris or on Biden.

"Harris has repeatedly slammed Biden, going so far as to say that he supported racist policies that hurt the Black community," says a press release from the Trump campaign. "Harris said Biden's 1994 crime bill 'contribute[d] to mass incarceration' in the U.S."

That's a quote from comments that Harris made last May in response to Biden's defense of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act—or "the 1994 Biden Crime Bill," as he prefers to call it. "I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Joe Biden, but I disagree," Harris told reporters in New Hampshire. "That crime bill, that 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in this country." She noted that it "was the first time that we had a federal three-strikes law," requiring a life sentence for anyone convicted of a violent crime after committing two other offenses (violent or not). She suggested that provision "encouraged" similar laws at the state level. Harris also noted that the bill "funded the building of more prisons," which was contingent on state passage of "truth in sentencing" laws that limited or abolished parole.

The Trump campaign points out that Harris also has criticized Biden for bragging about his collaboration with former segregationists. While the context of that criticism was a spat about busing during a Democratic presidential debate in June, Biden has specifically cited his work with Sen. Strom Thurmond (R–S.C.) on the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, which began a pattern of harsh mandatory minimum sentences that continued into the 1990s, as an inspiring example of bipartisanship. During that period, Biden was eager to show that Democrats could be at least as tough on crime and drugs as Republicans. In a 1993 Senate floor speech, he boasted that "every major crime bill since 1976 that's come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill, has had the name of the Democratic senator from the State of Delaware: Joe Biden."

Biden's criminal justice record is so appalling that the Trump campaign has attacked him from the left on the issue. "In addition to wrecking countless lives with the 1994 crime bill, during his time in the Senate, Biden's 'priority' was legislation that policy experts agree made the opioid epidemic far more deadly," it said in a March 4 press release. "Biden pioneered legislation that decreases the likelihood of people to call 911 if they witness a drug overdose and has even led to prosecutors filing homicide charges against drug overdose victims' loved ones."

The latter claim was based on a provision of the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act that prescribed a sentence of 20 years to life for drug distribution when it results in death. Like many Biden-backed anti-drug policies enacted in the 1980s and '90s, that provision ostensibly was aimed at "kingpins" who make a fortune by selling drugs that kill people. But prosecutions for "drug-induced homicide" (mostly at the state level) usually involve low-level dealers and acquaintances close to overdose victims, since those are the cases in which the causal link is easiest to prove. And the Trump campaign is right that such cases can involve "homicide charges against drug overdose victims' loved ones." These prosecutions are not only cruel and unjust; they are potentially deadly, since fear of homicide charges is a powerful deterrent to calling 911 when someone overdoses.

"Mass incarceration has put hundreds of thousands behind bars for minor offenses," says a Trump campaign video released in May. "Joe Biden wrote those laws." In a June 2 blog post, the campaign slammed Biden as "the chief architect of mass incarceration and the War on Drugs, which targeted Black Americans."

Last year Trump himself criticized Biden for supporting criminal justice policies that had a disproportionate impact on African Americans. "Anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected," he tweeted. "In particular, African Americans will not be able to vote for you. I, on the other hand, was responsible for Criminal Justice Reform, which had tremendous support, & helped fix the bad 1994 Bill!"

Biden has repudiated the myriad mandatory minimums and death penalties he once championed, saying they should be abolished. He also wants to eliminate the irrational sentencing disparity between the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine, which was created by the 1986 law and reduced by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. He says that distinction, which led to strikingly unequal treatment of black drug offenders, was "a big mistake" based on misinformation. And while continuing to resist the repeal of federal marijuana prohibition, Biden now calls for decriminalizing cannabis consumption and automatically expunging "all prior cannabis use convictions" (neither of which would have much of an impact at the federal level, since the Justice Department rarely prosecutes low-level marijuana cases).

Trump, by contrast, barely talks about criminal justice reform, beyond occasionally touting his support for the FIRST STEP Act and his commutation of a few drug sentences. The "Law and Justice" page on his campaign website says nothing about those actions or any further steps toward a less arbitrarily punitive criminal justice system. Yet despite his Nixonian "law and order" rhetoric, Trump has intermittently shown seemingly genuine concern about the "very unfair" drug penalties that Biden pushed for decades.

Whether or not Biden's conversion is sincere, it seems unlikely that he could get away with reverting to his old drug-warrior ways given the current climate of opinion among Democrats and Americans generally. Harris, whose own record in this area as a local prosecutor and California's attorney general is nothing to brag about, likewise has "evolved" in response to shifting Democratic opinion and in some respects goes further than Biden. In 2018, after resisting marijuana legalization for years, Harris said she wanted to "decriminalize marijuana nationwide." Last year she was the lead Senate sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act, which would repeal federal pot prohibition by removing cannabis from the federal lists of "controlled substances."

Trump wants to have it both ways with Biden's criminal justice record, criticizing it as senselessly harsh when that's convenient and citing Harris' similar criticism as evidence of her "radical" proclivities when that seems like a more effective rhetorical tack. It would be interesting to see a debate between Trump and Biden about these issues, since it would give Trump a chance to clarify his position and give Biden a chance to forthrightly address his egregious misjudgments. But it seems unlikely that will happen, given Biden's reluctance to admit that his proudest accomplishments as a senator were disastrous and Trump's reluctance to antagonize conservatives who see nothing wrong with that record.

[This post has been revised to include more criticism of Joe Biden's criminal justice record from the Trump campaign.]

NEXT: Trump Campaign Attacks Kamala Harris for Wanting To Ban Plastic Straws

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Broke: throwing black men in prison for pot
    Woke: letting white antifa burn the inner city

    1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new…DFr after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

      Here’s what I do………► Cash Mony System

  2. The difference is that Joe Biden wrote laws that unjustly put people in prison. Harris actually put people unjustly in prison. Maybe it is a distinction without difference. But it is a distinction. Harris did the dirty work of Biden’s tough on crime laws.

    1. And from a political perspective, if I was on the fence for Biden, the only factors that Kamala Harris brings to the table that would solidify my opinion are “black”ish, and “woman”ish.

      1. If there is one thing that seems to sell to the voters in all circumstances these days it is authenticity. Bernie Sanders is an old crank and someone even a lot of Democrats can’t take seriously. But, he comes across as sincere and authentic. Thanks to at least appearing to be authentic, a guy who might as well be a crazy old bum they pulled out of a laundry mat while he was yelling at the dryers about the evils of corporations almost won the Democratic nomination.

        Harris has no authenticity. She comes across as a typical politician who will say or do anything to get elected. It is why she only got 2% of the primary vote despite being a Senator from a large state and being a black woman running for the Democratic nomination. I can’t see her finding any authenticity or appeal now.

        1. Well that and the fact she’s actually white. No one passes her on the street and sees anything but another Karen.

          1. I think the Karen factor is something everyone is missing. It would be one thing if Harris made her rep as a prosecutor going after Al Quada or the mafia or something. Then, she could credibly claim to be a law and order candidate. But, she didn’t. She made her rep prosecuting petty drug offenses and throwing the parents of kids who skipped school in jail and going after political groups she didn’t like. She is a law and order Karen not a law and order candidate. She is the woman who shows up with the cops to shut your business down because it isn’t practicing social distancing. I think the pandemic makes her an even less appealing candidate than she already was.

          2. No one passes her on the street and sees anything but another Karen.

            I see a photoshop Picasso. Not sure why, but every time I see her face, it looks like it’s been poorly photoshopped in. I think it’s the hair and forehead.

          3. But usually Karens are at least somewhat wholesome, whereas Kamala has that skanky past. She is a prostitute who screeches at you for not wearing a mask. I can’t personally imagine anything more unappealing, but I guess some like it.

    2. Trump also did neither of those things, so he’s in a position to criticize both Biden and Harris without being a hypocrite. Being critical of everyone involved is a rational position to take.

    3. You’re getting your wingnut talking points all confused.


      1. So the child porn surfing dumb ass who on the last thread was bragging about how tough of a prosecutor Harris was on this thread says that “Harris putting people in jail unjustly” is just a “talking point”.

        Like I told one of your sock puppets. You dumb asses need to pick a talking point and stay with it. Emoting and putting out lies that contradict and don’t even have any internal logic isn’t going to cut it.

        1. I wasn’t bragging about shit, you moron.

          I (like Reason has just done in this piece) was pointing out how Trump is trying to attack Democrats as overzealous police-staters and DEFUND THE POLICE anarchists at the same time.

          1. You were claiming that she was a tough prosecutor. Now you are claiming that anyone who says she was is just repeating right wing talking points.

            Again, you just fucking emote.

          2. Selective application of an overly harsh legal code totes isn’t a thing people use as a political weapon

      2. You’re right, I am confused. Why is Democrats want to defund the police not a good point?

        1. I (like Reason has just done in this piece) was pointing out how Trump is trying to attack Democrats as overzealous police-staters and DEFUND THE POLICE anarchists at the same time.

          (repeat just for you)

          You can’t have it both ways.

          1. Yes you can. The Democrats will arrest people for having plastic straws or not wearing a mask while at the same time eliminate cash bail and refuse to prosecute rioters.

            The Democrats are the party who made it illegal to attend your grandmother’s funeral in the name of public health but then turned around and praised mass protests and riots by BLM. If someone has a funeral with 20 people or a church service, the Democrats will show up and throw them in jail. If they have a rally of a 100,000 people in support of BLM, the Democrats will cheer it on and allow the protesters to burn the center of the city to the ground.

            So, yeah, you can have it both ways. That is because the Democrats are just that big of hypocritical tyrants.

            1. As long as they continue to prosecute the Trump crime family I will be fine.

              Manafort, Flynn, Stone, Papadopulous, and others 2017-19 and The Con Man himself in 2021.

              1. The Democratic Party is also the party of abusing the FBI and the intelligence community and using it to go after their political enemies.

                That is also true. But it is not the point I was making. The point I was making still stands and is true. You just admitted it by trying to change the subject.

                1. Trump uses foreign leaders and US taxpayer money to go after his political enemies.

                  The FBI got FISA warrants on Trump Tower because they were collaborating with Soviets.

                  1. Trump uses foreign leaders and US taxpayer money to go after his political enemies.

                    Making shit up isn’t going to convince anyone. Look you lying piece of child porn using garbage, Obama used the CIA and FBI to try and undermine a US election and slander his successor as illegitimate. It is the biggest political scandal in the modern era. The Democrats own it. They are the party of secret police and using federal law enforcement for political purposes. That is the main legacy of your hero Obama. Own it.

                    Meanwhile, the fact remains the Democrats are also the party of throwing people in jail for going to church while allowing rioting and looting in the name of “social justice”. You have not even addressed that point much less refuted it.

                    1. It is the biggest political scandal in the modern era.

                      We agree on that. Trump Tower was turned into a Kremlin outpost. That traitor Flynn should be swinging by his neck.

                    2. You seem very upset about Flynn winning.

                    3. No dipshit it wasn’t. That is all a lie. The Kremlin supported Hillary. John Brennen admitted it.


    4. Well-said, John! And she was NEVER punished for the epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct on her watch! She should be disbarred and cooling her heels in prison the rest of her life

  3. Kamala Harris Is So ‘Radical,’ Trump’s Campaign Says, That She Criticized Joe Biden’s Criminal Justice Record. So Does Trump.

    The difference is that Kamala is running with Biden, and Trump is running against them. I hope this help clear things up for you.

  4. Trump: The radical pot is calling the leftist kettle black.
    Sullum: Trump wants it both ways!

  5. Trump can say something neither Harris nor Biden can say; he has actually let people out of prison. Biden and Harris have only put them there.

    But hey, pox on both houses man. There is no difference between them at all.

    1. But hey, pox on both houses man. There is no difference between them at all.

      Yeah. It seems like all those years of Nolan charts and political orthogonality didn’t survive the pre-Trump singularity. Not even centrism survived. Siding with Harris against Biden makes you every bit as radical as Harris. There can be no other conceptualization.

      1. The center left is dead. The far left consumed it. At the same time, the establishment right is dead. It wasn’t consumed by the far right, it just ignored the interests of voters for too long.

        The far right is still a joke. The Trump right now owns the Republican Party, but it is just a populist resurgence of what once was the center right. The things about Trump that the establishment right claims are “far right”, reducing immigration, protecting American industry, protecting the middle class at the expense of pure free market ideology, are all things that were 40 years ago mainstream positions on the right. Trump is a return of that no the rise of some new populist bogey man.

        1. Biden is a centrist, you moron. So was Obama. They even went with a Heritage Foundation health plan that Romney liked too.

          1. Biden isn’t a centrist. There is nothing centrist about the Green New Deal or federalizing all local zoning so that single family homes and suburbs are outlawed. There isn’t a single centrist thing about Biden’s actual positions or the DNC’s actual platform.

            You can’t name anything centrist about Biden. You are just a lying piece of shit repeating talking points.

            1. Biden pissed on AOC’s ridiculous Green New Deal, you moron.

              Biden also told the leftists Medicare For All was a no-go during the primary season. The left hates Biden. AOC endorsed Crazy Bernie.

              You are completely misinformed by your wingnut sites like Bratfart.

                1. The Biden GND is $1.7 trillion – chump change to Trump and his runaway spending.

                  AOC’s plan was rightly ridiculed by conservatives at a cost of $97 trillion. AOC is the very definition of far left.

                  Biden took all the Trump-like handouts out of AOC’s plan.

                  1. So, yes Biden endorsed the Green New Deal. Saying Trump spends more, which Congress not the President does that, doesn’t refute the point that you just conceded. Biden is not a centrist. Thanks for playing retard.

              1. And Biden’s plan is medicare for all. He just doesn’t call it that.

                Biden keeps inching closer to the Bernie Sanders wing of the party without embracing “Medicare for All” by proposing to lower the eligibility age of the entitlement program from 65 to 60 and potentially extend government coverage to an additional 23 million people. He’s also backing a robust government-run public health insurance option that would auto-enroll low-income people who lose their jobs and provide another choice for Americans covered under Obamacare or at their job.


                That is medicare for all you lying piece of shit. Now run away like you always do after someone points out your lies.

                1. No, you asswipe. Medicare For All is forcing the 160 million of us on private insurance onto Medicare like Bernie and Liz want.

                  I would vote for Trump before I voted for someone who wanted that.

                  Yes, I said it. Trump over Bernie. You can quote me.

                  1. why would anyone quote a fake buttplug account?

                  2. And Biden wants that. He is just calling it the “public option”. Read the fucking quote you dumb ass.

                    Are you tired of me putting my foot onto your face or do you want more of it?

                    1. No he doesn’t. A public option is when an Obamacare participant elects to buy a plan from the feds instead of a private insurer in the ACA marketplace.

                      Private insurers will still insure all 160 million of us on employer based plans.

                      You are so ignorant on policy matters, John.

        2. The center left isn’t dead. It’s alive and well in Trump. I think we’re going to see a major realignment in politics in the next several years. Either the Democrats go back to hiding their crazy, or the Republicans become the big tent party and absorb everyone to the right of Karl Marx before splitting into a center-left and right/center-right parties.

          1. Either the Democrats go back to hiding their crazy

            Democratic voters soundly rejected Bernie and Lizzie Warren. They really weren’t sold on Biden but he was the last centrist left and won because he rejected Medicare For All.

            70% centrist (Biden) and 30% leftist by the primary totals.

            1. So picking a guy who clearly has dementia is your defense that proves the left isn’t crazy?

              1. I’ll take dementia over a pathological liar.

                1. And I’ll take a habitual liar over anyone who would fight to keep it legal for women to MURDER THEIR FULL-TERM BABIES!!!

            2. “he was the last centrist left ”

              “Joe Biden Says He’d Be The ‘Most Progressive’ President in History, ”


              So Biden was lying? Or you are?

              1. We really haven’t had a progressive POTUS since FDR. Biden is throwing a few coin to the left who don’t want him – because he needs their votes.

                1. So you were lying then.

            3. I know this is a troll, but Biden is only centrist to the far left, Democrat voters soundly rejected Sanders only with the…help of the party establishment, and many of those Biden primary voters will end up voting for Trump anyway due to how much farther left the Democrat party in general and the Biden campaign platform in particular has become even in just the last few months.

              In a way, Dem controlled cities are a perfect microcosm of today’s Democrat party: the rank and file may be the same as they’ve always been, but they’re still being forced out into safer territory by lunatic rioters and the leadership that patronizes them.

              1. Troll? I’ve been here since 2007, you idiot.

                Funny how Biden is too militaristic, too law and order, supports balanced budgets, free trade, etc but now wingnuts are investing in this “Far Left” Biden charade because they can’t run on the Orange Failure’s record.

                1. You’ve been trolling since 2007? That’s dedication.

                  And yes, Biden and his campaign running on the Green New Deal, permanent lockdowns, higher taxes, more regulations, a government take over of healthcare, more government involvement in everything from education to housing and more, and then also spending millions to bail out ‘peaceful protesters’ is far left. And he’s the ‘moderate’ Democrat.

                  1. All lies.

                    Biden supports private health insurance, moron. All your claims are lies.

          2. It is an issue of semantics. But I think it is reasonable to classify Trump as center left. The center left no longer has a home in the Democratic party. They either just rolled over and went along with the far left or they defected to the Republicans and became Trump voters. Whether you call them center left or center right is just a question of how you define the terms. But I think we agree on what is happening.

            1. Classify Trump as center left??

              Is that as true as everything else you have said?

  6. > (D–Calif.)

    The Department of Redundancy Department would like their royalty check.

  7. Lame. Even by Orange Man Bad standards, this is lame.

  8. A reason writer has the vapors and Is hysterical over campaign politics.

    No wonder libertarians can’t win.

    1. Good point, and not even very bad “She supports killing people because the NRA gave her a good rating.”-style campaign politics at that.

  9. The black community doesn’t support Kamala (despite the forced grins of their leaders when interviewed) because they know she’s going to launch new wars against them. However this time it won’t be drugs but weapons and free speech. The KHive is full of liberal white lawyers chomping at the bit to accuse young black conservatives of all kinds of crimes such as ‘libel’ and ‘defamation’ for criticizing Kamala. Blacks know she will launch a new era of Jim Crow and white people can hide behind her as ‘proof’ they’re not racist. This choice was actually a betrayal though they can’t say it because she’s black.

    Also under bail reform, Kamala will go after libertarians and free speech activists as ‘flight risk’ regardless of the charge. I think Trump’s strategy here is a bit confused. She doesn’t want to go easy on crime, but just redefine it to change the battle lines.

    1. Someone made the point yesterday that the only people who seem to support and like Harris are white liberal lawyers. That seems about correct. That makes Harris the candidate of the SPLC and the Obama DOJ and FBI.

  10. Pointing out hypocrisy isn’t usually looked at as being hypocritical.

    Trump doesn’t have a political record of supporting or enforcing policies that lead to mass incarceration, does he? So, he’s free to criticize people with such records.

    His opponents, on the other hand, have spent several decades either passing laws that sent non-violent criminals away for life, or enforcing those laws and others on ‘the people’ – even laws that hey didn’t feel the need to obey themselves. Harris in particular laughed about smoking weed in her youth, even though she spent years putting people in prisons for exactly that. It would be wrong *not* to point that out.

    1. Yes it would. Trump has done more to end the mass incarceration problem at the federal level than any President since the problem arose. Meanwhile, Biden is personally responsible for writing and helping to pass the very federal laws that caused the problem and that Trump started to undo with the First Step Act. Harris of course made her entire career as a politician viciously enforcing drug laws and every other sort of petty non violent crime, that is when she wasn’t blowing Willie Harris.

      Why Sulumn thinks that is hypocrisy or would be so dishonest to pretend that it is, is a mystery. Ultimately, Sulumn just can’t bring himself to tell the truth or likely even admit it himself. Biden and Harris are clearly awful. Sulumn can handle that. He cannot, however, handle the fact that Trump is better. So, he just lies and pretends that Trump is being hypocritical for attacking opponents for a record that is in huge contrast to his own.

    2. Mass immigration enforcement is still mass incarceration, something Trump has ramped up.

      And considering many of the laws that contribute to other mass incarceration are still enforced on his watch, you can’t exactly say he doesn’t have a political record of enforcing such policies.

      Massive proactive steps are needed. Quietly going about ‘business as usual’ is not enough to claim superiority here, nor are a couple scraps of half-hearted reform.

      1. Mass immigration enforcement is still mass incarceration, something Trump has ramped up.

        No it is not. Deporting people is sending them back to their homes. That is not mass incarceration by any reasonable definition. To the extent they are incarcerated, that is because they choose to be so. Any person currently in INS custody could leave and go free if they gave up their immigration claim and agreed to be deported.

        You can disagree with that but to call it the same thing as locking people up for years for using drugs or some other nonviolent crime is just wrong.

        1. Arresting people for crossing an arbitrary border is arresting them for a nonviolent crime.

  11. Imagine trying to glean any intelligence from anything Trump says or does.

    1. It is called reading or listening. It is sadly not surprising that you find that impossible. You should work on that. Being illiterate is a very hard way to go through life.

  12. I bet Kamala was the only one willing to put up with the inevitable barrage of low level sex crimes for a few months in hopes of getting the presidency

  13. So, by my count, Reason has published more stories about the Democrat *VP pick* in one day than it has about Jo Jorgenson since her nomination (to say nothing of the Libertarian VP pick, whom i can’t even name offhand). Why is THE Libertarian publication not promoting the Libertarian presidential candidate.

    1. Reason has been Democrat for a long time now.

    2. I’m going to give them credit for having most of them be negative. I was really starting to think them far enough gone to be for the woman I could see let a rapist out of jail to make room for waiter who hands out plastic straws.

    3. Because Libertarians don’t click?

  14. Making Cash more than $15k to $18k consistently just by doing basic online work. I have gotten $18376 a month ago just by working on the web. Its a simple and basic occupation to do from home and its profit are greatly improved than customary office work. Each individual can join this activity now just by pursue this link……..go to this site home media tech tab for more detail support your hear Here══════❥❥❥❥More detail here.

  15. Harris is so radical whe is not even eligible. The requreiments for VP are the same as for Pres. She was NOT born HERE of TWO parents who were US Citizens at the time.

    THIS needs to be made known, and a big deal. We already had one “president” who was not lawfully able to BE pres, and that was a disaster.

    1. Kamala Harris was born in Oakland, California. She is accordingly a natural born citizen per the Fourteenth Amendment.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.