Free Minds & Free Markets

Kamala Harris Hopes You'll Forget Her Record as a Drug Warrior and Draconian Prosecutor

The senator and presidential hopeful went to bat for dirty prosecutors, opposed marijuana legalization, and championed policies that endanger sex workers.

As she begins her 2020 presidential campaign, Sen. Kamala Harris is trying to position herself as a reformer who tirelessly works to correct the abuses of the criminal justice system. But the California Democrat has one big problem: her long record as a law-and-order prosecutor.

Harris's new memoir, The Truths We Hold, makes no mention of her past as an old-school drug warrior, a defender of dirty prosecutors, and a political opportunist who made life more dangerous for sex workers. Harris doesn't apologize for her previous stances, even those she now disavows; instead, she's decided to try to convince voters that she's always been a progressive prosecutor.

Here are some parts of her record that Harris is hoping you'll forget in the run-up to 2020.


Harris's political rise has been propelled by a yearslong, high-profile campaign against alleged sex traffickers. What she's actually done is help throw women in jail for having consensual sex, while trampling on the rule of law to advance her own political ambitions.

Ignoring the pleas of sex workers and human rights advocates for over a decade, she fought against campaigns to decriminalize consensual adult prostitution in California. As California attorney general, she helped lead a statewide program to get truckers to report suspected sex workers to police. These policies didn't stop traffickers, but they did land plenty of sex workers behind bars.

Harris fought to destroy, a classified ads site that sex workers used to find and screen clients, even though she publicly admitted that the site's founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were protected from prosecution under federal free speech laws. But a month before Election Day in her Senate race, Harris went ahead and had them arrested anyway, parading them before cameras on pimping charges, which were then promptly dismissed by a judge.

When Harris got to Congress, she kept up her crusade, becoming a big proponent of the 2018 law known as SESTA-FOSTA. The result was that many sex workers no choice but to return to the streets, where soliciting clients is considerably more dangerous.

Meanwhile, Harris declined to intervene in a real underage sex-trafficking scandal that involved dozens of police and other local authorities in the Bay Area.


In her memoir, Harris decries America's "deep and dark history" of "people using the power of the prosecutor as an instrument of injustice," by framing innocent men or hiding exculpatory evidence. But during her time as California's top cop, she contributed to that history by repeatedly going to bat for dirty prosecutors.

Her office appealed the dismissal of a case in which a prosecutor had fabricated a confession to secure a conviction and fought an appeal in a case where the prosecutor lied to a jury during trial. In 2015, Harris tried to stop the removal of the Orange County District Attorney's office from a murder trial after it repeatedly failed to turn over evidence to the defense.

Her office even tried to keep a man in jail who had been wrongfully incarcerated for 13 years—even after a judge ruled he had proven himself innocent—because the man hadn't delivered the proof fast enough.

And as San Francisco District Attorney, Harris hid known misconduct by a crime lab technician who admitted to deliberately tainting evidence. The debacle has since led to the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases.


Harris is a former drug warrior who is now refashioning herself as pro-legalization. That's a positive shift—but not a reason to rewrite the past or ignore the patterns it reveals in her judgment. For years after the cultural tide had turned in support of criminal justice reforms, Harris continued to support lock-'em-up policies that disproportionately hurt minorities.

As California Attorney General, Harris opposed marijuana legalization as late as 2014, promoted civil asset forfeiture without a conviction as a way to fight drug rings, and sought to more aggressively police prescription drug use.

In her new book, Harris reveals that her drug warrior mentality hasn't changed; it's just that her emphasis has shifted. Now she's hoping to funnel even more funds to law enforcement to "cut off the supply of fentanyl from China," and to "reinstate the DEA's authority to go after the major pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors."

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.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    TreasonNN once again taking their corporate media talking points to take down a strong woman. Color me shocked.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Hit piece probably funded by the Clinton Foundation so that Hillary can still be the first lady president.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    My guess: it's a Koch-funded a piece which KMW eagerly published so that she can continue to attend the mainstream, right-wing, cocktail parties.

  • AER1972||

    Hit piece? Please point out the falsehoods.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||


  • AER1972||

    She is a shameless opportunist. It has nothing to do with her color or sex and everything to do with her dangerously silly proposed policies juxtaposed with her history that exposes her innate hypocrisy and lack of intellectual depth as a candidate/leader.
    How much strength or courage does it take to stand in front of vacuous lemming-like progressives and declare free health-care, colleges for all, a ban all semi-automatic rifles and call for unrestricted, un-vetted immigration? If this passes for a strong woman then all females need to re-think the whole woman's movement.

  • Tul­pa||



  • Crusty Juggler||

    There is one Reason commentariat rule, and that is the only trustworthy commenter is Tulpa - everyone else is full of lying, stinking garbage.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    STFU Tulpa

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    Promoted to Honorary Editor Vox Populi with oak leaf clusters.

  • BYODB||

    Don't worry, she's evolved on all those issues in the last five minutes and if she has to by god she'll evolve on those issues again! She'll evolve on anything to defeat Orange Hitler!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    People can change.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    ^ This. Rocky was right.

  • $park¥ is the Worst||

    Forrest Taft, too.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    He isn't even a top-five Seagal character. WTF?

  • $park¥ is the Worst||

    The hell you say. Every Seagal character is a top five character.

  • TGoodchild||

    Except for Ritchie. Will never forgive him for what he did to Bobby Lupo.

  • AER1972||

    yes and progressives do it so well and so quickly

  • ||

    They 'evolve' Diane. They 'evolve'.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Which is all well and good. But as a politician with a bad -- and recently bad -- record on several issues that are important to us, if she is changing she needs to (a) acknowledge that she is changing, and (b) explain what was wrong with what she said before and why she has changed. Instead, she wants to adopt new positions and pretend they were always her positions. That's not change, that's simple dishonesty. We had enough of that with Obama and Hillary.

  • Rich||

    Harris's new memoir, The Truths We Hold, makes no mention of her past as an old-school drug warrior, a defender of dirty prosecutors, and a political opportunist who made life more dangerous for sex workers.

    Well, duh -- Just look at the *title*.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So she announced on GMA and someone there squealed "Yay!" when she did? It's hard for me to believe Johnny Voter will be able to stand this woman, even without knowledge of her prosecutor bullshit.

  • AER1972||

    on the Judicial Nominations she stood out as the most annoying in her questioning always eager to display her DA skills. She is now displaying her waffling skills. She can change her policies to fit the crowd. Her motto is never to be out-pandered by any other candidate She is the queen of Pandering. The real strength of female candidates (LOL)

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    Her triangulation may not be perfected, but her feelz are the wokest.

  • Ray McKigney||

    Once he hears her speak on the campaign trail, Johnny Voter will instinctively reject her as presidential material. The vocal fry says, "I'm a child."

  • Rich||

    Harris's attorneys argued that non-violent offenders should stay behind bars because the state needed the cheap labor they provide.

    "They do the work *violent* offenders refuse to do!"

  • $park¥ is the Worst||

    Seriously. What are you gonna do when you tell Hacksaw Jones to stamp license plates and he says "make me"?

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Even if her past conduct as a prosecutor could be described as "draconian," that's not what we Koch / Reason libertarians should focus on. We need to oppose the draconian authoritarianism of Orange Hitler's war on immigrants. Because as Shikha Dalmia has noted, deporting people is morally comparable to enforcing fugitive slave laws.

    If Harris is the best candidate to defeat the alt-right white nationalist GOP in 2020, I can easily forgive her for being bad on marijuana policy.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    I give it 3 out of 10.

    You can do better.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    No, he can't

  • Libertymike||

    Can you forgive her nihilistic negro non-sense?

  • Ray McKigney||

    Or her amoral Asian asshattery?

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Harris supports may-issue concealed carry permit systems.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    I don't think the mother may I of permit systems will win any pro-gun support.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    That's easy in California. The law delegates actual issuance of permits to the counties, at their discretion, and Harris has said or done nothing to eliminate that.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    She actually defended it as a public policy matter.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    I don't think Harris is anywhere near the threat alleged.

    She's got far too much evil baggage which isn't in support of much Progressive agenda.

    She's ignoring all the current Progressive agenda of wrecking the wreckers.

    She's really just an old-fashioned prosecutorial candidate, and that went out of fashion a long time ago for Presidential contenders.

    She's not extreme enough to keep Bernie, Lizzie, Occasional Cortex, and all the others at bay. She's too extremely traditionally evil to attract anyone to the right of Bernie, Lizzie, and Occasional Cortex.

    She's just plain boring. She brings nothing to the game to even be considered as a compromise candidate.

  • Libertymike||

    Plus, she enthusiastically embraces ebony entitlement.

    She is the very personification of black is not so beautiful.

  • ||

    She's cliched.

  • John C. Randolph||

    She's really just an old-fashioned prosecutorial candidate

    No, she's the first actual prostitute in the senate. That's got to be worth something to the "slutwalk" faction of the leftards.


  • Dillinger||

    fake news. the important don't answer for past transgressions.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    She doesn't need to worry about her record as a prosecutor. Only the 30 or so people who comment here will ever know about it, and most of us wouldn't vote for her anyway.

  • Spookk||

    This by far the only place place people are pointing out her multitude of shortcomings. She wasn't even enthusiastically received at NYT - and that despite two banner stories they ran trying to pimp her.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    A debate with Clinton, Harris, Warren, and Sanders is a debate I could watch.

    Bitchfest with Sanders not getting a word in.

  • Fats of Fury||

  • TrickyVic (old school)||


  • ||

    I'd throw AOC in there just for the gags.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    I tend to be insomniac, so I'd probably watch it too if only to help me get to sleep

  • Uncle Jay||

    Let us all get on our knees and pray to the God the atheists don't believe in that Kamala Harris becomes the next POTUS.
    Only through her prudent ideas that the drug war will continue, gun confiscation among the unenlightened masses will be come a reality, taxes will be raised, unemployment will skyrocket, the masses will become dissatisfied with the nefarious capitalist system, and the Glorious Peoples' Revolution will finally become a reality where we will all become willing slaves to the ruling elitist turds at last.
    So let's all get behind Comrade Kamara, and make it our life's work to make her president of the USA, and hopefully, the Premier of the future Union of Soviet Socialist Slave States of America!

  • ||

    She's so blah.

    And that's some record of contradictions.

  • ||

    Kamala Harris: This time it'll be different!

  • Rockabilly||

    She sucked Willie's willie.

  • Benitacanova||


  • freedomlover||

    He's 30 years senior uo her.

    Can you say ick?

  • Spookk||

    At least we will get to throw mud on this tramp for a while on these topics, so that's good.

  • buybuydandavis||


    Bow chika wow wow wow

  • Scott Free2016||

    Does anyone who jumps in this early become President any more? There's too much time to beat up on the early entrants, or just wear them down.

    She has raised her profile and started a Presidential campaign fund that will have many uses over time, many of which will have nothing to do with running for President herself.

    This happens on both sides of the aisle, so don't go nuts, but we're a year out from knowing who the real hopefuls are, and I'd bet it won't be anyone who has already thrown their hat in the ring. Certainly not at the top of the ticket.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    The thing about declaring this early is that it gives your opponents, both partisan and within the party, to stockpile the ammunition against you. This is really the time when serious candidates are beating the stump in New Hampshire, Iowa and other small caucus states, getting their face and message out in limited situations. But that's nowhere near enough for people like Harris and Cortez, who live for the big stage.

  • Pedro Martinez||

    Horizontal Harris (as we know her here in Cali) plowed her way to the top by letting Willie Brown plow her. It is common knowledge. One of the biggest cases her A G office litigated was defending the state our ex- governor, stuck in the headlights "Moonbeam" against class action suit by several public interest organizations. They sued the state for misappropriation (actually embezzlement) of federal funds earmarked as mortgage relief for home owners hurt in the 2008 recession. Horizontal Harris and the state lost. She is a terrible person that will do anything for power. Including sleeping with a married political hack twice her age. Now that is Democracy! At least Democratic party democracy.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Her office appealed the dismissal of a case in which a prosecutor had fabricated a confession to secure a conviction

    So what?

    The confession was fake but accurate, just like those Killian memos.

  • Uncle Jay||

    If you think America has a high incarceration rate now, just wait until she becomes president.
    Too bad Janet Reno died.
    She would've made a great AG for Harris.
    Just look how many innocent people Reno killed at Waco.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online