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October 21, 2011

Senate Republicans block Jim Webb's bill for creating National Criminal Justice Commission

As reported in this interesting piece from Politico, Republicans in the Senate yesterday got vocal and blocked Senator Jim Webb's bill proposing the creation of "National Criminal Justice Commission."  Here are the details:

Invoking “states rights” and the Constitution, Senate Republicans Thursday torpedoed an ambitious plan to create a national blue ribbon bipartisan commission to do a top-to-bottom review of the U.S. criminal justice system and report back potential reforms in 18 months.

The 57-43 roll call -- three short of the 60 supermajority needed -- dramatized again how politically divided the chamber has become.   Almost identical legislation cleared the House in the last Congress on a simple voice vote with Republican backing and had been approved with bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee last year as well.

Given endorsements from the American Bar Association and many police and sheriffs organizations, proponents had hoped to clear the 60 vote supermajority required in the Senate.  But under a barrage of last-minute attacks, Republican support wilted. And the chief sponsor, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), found himself deserted by even his long time associate and fellow Vietnam veteran, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)....

Republicans argued that the White House would have too much influence, effectively creating a 9-7 majority for the administration.  But Webb said the specific language that one set of commission seats be chosen “in agreement” with the White House had been the exact phrasing chosen by the GOP.  And Republicans are specifically promised control over one of the two co-chairs.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) took the lead in the GOP’s attacks, describing the commission as “an overreach of gigantic proportions” and “not a priority in these tight budget times.”

“We’re absolutely ignoring the U.S. Constitution if you do this,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in closing. “We have no role unless we’re violating human rights or the U.S. Constitution to involve ourselves in the criminal court system or penal system in my state or any other state…I would urge a no vote against this and honor our Constitution.”

The scene was in sharp contrast with events before the 2010 mid-term elections.  In July that same year, nearly identical legislation sailed through the House with the backing of Hutchison’s fellow Texan, Rep. Lamar Smith -- now chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.  Support was so strong that the bill was called up under expedited proceedings and passed without any member even demanding a recorded vote.

By contrast, just four Senate Republicans backed Webb Thursday: Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts....

Individual Republican senators said they had come under pressure from local district attorneys and judges in drug courts to oppose Webb.  But the Democrat countered that he had strong support from the drug court judiciary and the model for his proposal was the influential presidential commission on crime and the judicial system in the mid 1960’s led by then-Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.

Webb said that 40 years later it is reasonable to have a second review, especially given the high incarceration rate in the U.S. at a time or relatively low crime rates. “Our criminal justice system is broken in many areas,” he told the Senate in his own floor comments. “We need a national commission to look at the criminal justice system from point of apprehension through reentry into society of people who have been incarcerated.”

October 21, 2011 at 09:43 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Can anyone remember the last time a "blue-ribbon comission" accomplished anything of substance in Washington?

Posted by: Anon | Oct 21, 2011 11:04:18 AM

Anon --

Well, President Obama appointed a Blue Ribbon deficit reduction commissiom, and it made at least a dozen specific suggestions, so the President immediately acted to ask Congress to implemen.....

How's that?

He just let them sit there on the table?

Oh......ummmmm.........never mind.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 11:22:56 AM

Actually the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission did not even endorse its own plan - the final plan fell 3 votes short of the required super-majority.

In fact, the Senate could not even agree that such a commission should have happened in the first place. The Senate voted down legislation that would have created the deficit-reduction commission, with six Republican co-sponsors of the bill voting against it. President Obama later created the commission by executive order, thus bypassing the Senate.

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 12:15:30 PM

C --

But the plan had a majority, right? And Obama did not need either a supermajority of the commission or Congressional approval to at least ask Congress to consider the proposals, did he?

No, he didn't.

So what did he do?

He let them sit on the table, just as I said.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 12:52:20 PM

Bill, I think your right on, Obama administration has turned into a thrashing machine.. A very
inefficent one at that...I think the Repubs won't pass anything at all proposed by the Dems, until Obamacare is repealed or they get their fill of the fight....

Maybe anyone that has incumbent beside their name next yr, needs to get voted out..

But Obama may still the best thats out there for Pres...Romney, failed 2 times before...Perry, Nah..
Cain, 9-9-9....He may get that for votes....Geinrich (mangled the spelling) he got tore apart in Iowa.

Maybe we could skip the 2012 election, and go to the 2016, watch Hillery slug it out with whomever.

Its a good thing that government really isn't that important, as the good old USA keeps right on ticking.

Free enterprise.. But we are getting ever so close to Federalism....As bad as the Feds are, the stock market continues to climb...

Its too bad Sen.Webb didn't get this passed...Its long over due for overhaul, DOJ systems are overkill.

Posted by: Abe | Oct 21, 2011 1:49:28 PM

If Tom Coburn thinks any Congressional involvement in/concern with state criminal justice matters is unconstitutional, I assume he votes against every bill that contains funding for local law enforcement? (I don't have time to confirm this, but I bet he doesn't.)

At any rate, as long as Congress is doling out lots of money to fund local law enforcement -- which they are -- it has an interest in influencing the policies of the local groups that take the funds, as well as the Spending Clause authority to do something about it. Not to mention its interest in the development and enforcement of (the now vast) federal criminal law.

It's sad when there are problems so obvious that groups like the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation can agree that we have gone off the track, and our elected leaders can't even have a responsible conversation about it.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 21, 2011 2:15:03 PM

oops, dang pronoun/antecedent agreement. parenthetical phrase in first sentence of second para should read "which it is," not "which they are"

Posted by: Anon | Oct 21, 2011 2:16:11 PM

Bill - what would have been the point? The Senate had already spoken on the question. While it's true that the plan picked up a bare majority (11 of the 14 votes needed for commission endorsement), 6 of the 12 lawmakers on the commission (3D's and 3R's) voted against.

Further, the Senate just as well as President Obama could have picked up the commission's recommendations and voted on them. That they did not, in light of the earlier vote against creating the commission in the first instance, is not surprising.

If President Obama is to be criticized here, it is for forming the commission by executive order in the first instance. When you have Senators co-sponsor a bill creating the commission on the front end turn around and vote against the bill on back, the dye has pretty much been cast.

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 2:40:48 PM

C --

"Bill - what would have been the point?"

The United States is in a debt crisis. We owe fourteen and a half trillion dollars and have no visible way of paying it back. The federal government borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends. Entitlement spending is out of control and is going to get worse with the aging Baby Boomers.

The point, therefore, would have been for Obama to show some actual leadership and guts by telling Congress that the current level of debt and spending cannot continue....and here are these fine Deficit Commission proposals that will at least make a start on fixing the problem.

You don't know what's going to work unless you try. He tried plenty hard (and succeeded) for something he actually cared about, to wit, adding a third gigantic entitlement we ALSO can't afford.

But he left the Deficit Commission proposals to gather dust, as the country slides deeper and deeper in the hole.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 3:09:40 PM

Not to mention that Obama offered a budget that was such a punchline, not one Senator from EITHER party voted for it. And this is the same Senate that has not done a budget (required annually by statute) in more than 900 days.

To imply that Obama has been anything but completely irresponsible regarding our budget is a folly.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 21, 2011 3:46:24 PM

Building on Anon's comment about Sen. Coburn: If he really means what he says, he should be adamantly opposed to SORNA, Congress's mandate that state sex offenders register as such for purposes of a national sex offender registry. (He should also believe the scheme to be unconstitutional.)

Posted by: snapple | Oct 21, 2011 4:11:05 PM

"...and the model for his proposal was the influential presidential commission on crime and the judicial system in the mid 1960’s led by then-Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach."

Wow. If you actually want to alienate conservatives and cause them to vote against your bill, there are few more effective ways to do that than to say it is like a part of LBJ's Great Society fiasco.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 21, 2011 4:27:08 PM

"To imply that Obama has been anything but completely irresponsible regarding our budget is a folly."

"To imply that [Washington Democrats or Republicans have] been anything by completely irresponsible regarding our budget is a folly."

FIFY.

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 4:27:19 PM

Interesting that this whole problem falls on President Obama - not even the most infatuated of his supporters believes that he would be capable of reversing 8 years of budget mismanagement that led us to the $1.2 trillion dollar deficit he inherited in January 2009, without Congressional interest in addressing the problem.

There is much to criticize the President for on his handling of the budget. But in truty, virtually nobody in Washington deserves anything close to a passing grade on budget matters since President Clinton left office over a decade ago. But not pressing the already rejected Simpson-Bowles plan is not one the President's sins in this area. Truth be told, the bigger mistake was creating the commission in the first place.

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 4:33:17 PM

It is interesting that "individual Republican senators said they had come under pressure from local district attorneys and judges in drug courts to oppose Webb."

Why are district attorneys and judges afraid to have their good work scrutinized?

Posted by: msyoung | Oct 21, 2011 7:42:57 PM

"LBJ's Great Society fiasco"

Yes, voting rights, reduction of elderly poverty, Medicaid, public broadcasting, cigarette warnings and other stuff ... one big fiasco. I realize anything from the "'60s" does turn off some people.

The commission referenced is discussed:

http://www.nij.gov/journals/257/40th-crime-report.html

Yes, it's silly to think some bipartisan body could be formed now to address societal problems. If they managed to do so in a workmanlike way, it would be a success for that reason alone.


Posted by: Joe | Oct 21, 2011 10:11:25 PM

C,

Actually, you messed it up, not fixed it. Although I agree in part with your overall premise (enough blame to go around), Obama and the Dems are far more culpable.

The "inherited deficit" of $1.2 trillion was mostly due to a one time bailout. Keep in mind that many Repubs opposed it and Obama supported it, making him culpable even in that. Obama took it further by increasing and extending these deficits into the forseeable future, all while having almost unprecedented power with a huge majority in the House and a filibusterproof majority in the Senate for most of his term thus far. And to my knowledge, to not pass budgets is unprecedented and incredibly reckless.

I would point out that the only budgets that have been passed were by Republicans in the House.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 22, 2011 11:21:53 AM

Joe,

You know your point is in trouble when you have to pull out "cigarette warnings" and "public broadcasting" to buttress your point. It kind of pales in comparison to the utter destruction of the black family. It's kind of like a Mussolini supporter looking at the destruction in Italy after WWII and saying, "But the trains are on time!"

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 22, 2011 11:26:16 AM

TarsQtr --

The real reason the lefties are frosted about this bill's going down is that commissions like the one it would create almost always wind up with a majority of -- guess what -- lefties. Also thrown in are a few clueless or lazy Republicans, so that the commission's inevitably pro-defendant proposals can be trotted out as "bi-partisan."

Those of us who've been around the track a few times here inside the Beltway know how this game gets played.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2011 11:52:15 AM

sorry i'm gonna have to give tarlsqtr this one too bill. sorry but when your party controls BOTH houses of congress and the whitehouse and obama's did for the first 2 years....and you can't get a budget passed...your party is useless and should be removed!

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 22, 2011 12:13:58 PM

'Those of us who've been around the track a few times here inside the Beltway know how this game gets played.'

and that's the reason for this countries problems. Supposed insiders with mentalities such as yours along with the rest of your inept 'Beltway' gang created and continue to perpetuate the problems while continuing to dupe the clueless general public. You should be the ones ashamed and behind bars for providing such an unpatriotic disservice to this country while posing as highly compensated public servants.

Posted by: comment | Oct 25, 2011 8:00:47 PM

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