Happy Trails: Sen. Dianne Feinstein Won't Run for Reelection

The longest-serving California senator was a hardline drug warrior, a surveillance hawk, and no friend of freedom.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) released a statement today that she will not be running for reelection at the conclusion of her term in 2024, ending her run as California's longest-serving senator.

It was an open secret on Capitol Hill, and then not a secret at all, that Feinstein, also the oldest senator at 89, was not quite up for the job anymore.

Although her replacement will likely not be much of an improvement, anyone who considers themselves a civil libertarian can only wish Feinstein bon voyage. From her perch in the Senate, Feinstein was a habitual enemy of the Second Amendment, a hysterical drug warrior, and an unfailing defender of government surveillance.

Ever annoyed that you can't buy Sudafed over the counter? Blame Feinstein, who co-sponsored the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. The legislation banned over-the-counter pseudoephedrine and ephedrine sales with the goal of stopping meth cooks from stocking up on the medicines, which can be used as precursors for the illegal drug. Rather than curbing meth abuse, though, the act only allowed Mexican drug cartels to expand their reach and further enrich themselves.

Ever wistful for the original Four Loko (you monster)? Blame Feinstein, who was one of the senators calling for the FDA to investigate the drink for simply being too awesome for college kids to handle.

Feinstein was repeatedly snookered by stories about candy-flavored meth—an urban legend that news outlets resurrect every few years. She co-sponsored legislation in 2009 and then again in 2017 to jack up the penalties for manufacturing drugs designed to appeal to minors.

In fairness to the senator, one of the bright spots of her career must also be noted: her dogged work exposing the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) illegal torture program.

However, on the national security front, she was frequently hostile to individual liberty and privacy rights. She sponsored the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012, which "[gave] government agents almost carte blanche to eavesdrop on the domestic communications of American citizens." She introduced legislation that would force tech companies to create backdoors around encrypted devices. She was a defender of the Obama administration's bloody drone program.

One of Feinstein's Sisyphean efforts has been attempting to revive the federal assault weapons ban since it expired in 2004. Feinstein has periodically reintroduced sweeping gun control legislation, but as Reason's Jacob Sullum (who has the equally Sisyphean task of writing about the bills) has noted over and over, they are filled with arbitrary definitions and bans of cosmetic features that would do little to actually stop mass shootings. Sullum has written thousands of words explaining why these bills are nonsensical, but these two paragraphs about Feinstein's efforts in 2021 should suffice:

In contrast with the 1994 definition, which required two or more "military-style" features, Feinstein's new proposal, like the bills she has been sponsoring since 2013, says one is enough to make a rifle intolerable. Feinstein also continues to fiddle with her list of prohibited features. She no longer thinks we need to worry about bayonet mounts, but she is now sounding the alarm about the ominous barrel shroud, a covering that protects the shooter's hand from the heat generated by firing a rifle. And while her 2013 list included "a rocket launcher," that has since been excised, although "grenade launcher" is still there.

Crimes committed with rifle-mounted grenade launchers are about as common in the United States as crimes committed with rifle-mounted bayonets. Even if someone decided to attach a grenade launcher to his rifle, he would have a hard time finding something to launch with it, since grenades are strictly regulated as "destructive devices" under federal law. The rest of the targeted features likewise do not make a gun especially lethal: They have nothing to do with rate of fire, ammunition size, muzzle velocity, or muzzle energy.

Feinstein's hostility to private gun ownership and her love of the national security apparatus found their truest expression in her repeated attempts to pass legislation that would bar people on the FBI's terror watchlist from purchasing guns.

Let it not be said, though, that Reason failed to recognize her hard work. She was one of the magazine's "Top 10 Enemies of Freedom" in 2013.