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November 28, 2011

New GOP front-runner Newt Gingrich talking up death penalty for drug kingpins

Newt Gingrich's surge in the GOP presidential polls should be exciting for sentencing fans due to his recent and vocal involvement in the Right on Crime Campaign, in which he has stated explicitly in a co-authored commentary that the US "can no longer afford business as usual with prisons" and that the "criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it."  However, this new item from The Daily Caller reveals that Gingrich is now making sentencing headlines of a different sort.  The piece is headlined "Newt: Give the death penalty to drug cartel leaders," and it begins this way:

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says he supports using the death penalty as punishment for leaders of drug cartels who bring drugs into America.

Gingrich made the comments when asked in an interview with Yahoo! News if he still stands by a bill he introduced in Congress in 1996 allowing those convicted of smuggling drugs to be put to death. “I think if you are, for example, the leader of a cartel, sure,” Gingrich told reporter Chris Moody. “Look at the level of violence and the level of violence that they’ve done to society.”

Elaborating, he said: “You can either be in the Ron Paul tradition and say there’s nothing wrong with heroine and cocaine or you can be in the tradition that says, ‘These kind of addictive drugs are terrible, they deprive you of full citizenship and they lead you to a dependency which is antithetical to being an American.’”

“If you’re serious about the latter view, then we need to think through a strategy that makes it radically less likely that we’re going to have drugs in this country.”

I wonder if any readers of this blog can seriously accept the notion that even a relatively active federal death penalty for drug kingpins would help make it "make[] it radically less likely that we’re going to have drugs in this country." I also wonder if there are any traditional GOP fans of smaller government really like hearing talk of ramping up the federal drug war to an even higher sentencing gear.

November 28, 2011 at 02:38 PM | Permalink

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Newt's a nut.

Posted by: Robert | Nov 28, 2011 3:04:50 PM

He wasn't such a nut -- indeed, he was a far-sighted leader -- when he was leading the charge for "Right on Crime."

So I guess we need to define terms here.

"Far-sighted leader" = agrees with me.

"Nut" = disagrees with me.

Got it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 28, 2011 3:21:31 PM

"I wonder if any readers of this blog can seriously accept the notion that even a relatively active federal death penalty for drug kingpins would help make it 'make[] it radically less likely that we’re going to have drugs in this country.'"

Anything said at this point would be a guess. If one is a believer in evidence-based determinations, the thing to do is try it for a few years and see what happens.

"I also wonder if there are any traditional GOP fans of smaller government really like hearing talk of ramping up the federal drug war to an even higher sentencing gear."

Liberals' newly discovered fondness for "smaller government" seems to apply everywhere except where it might count for something substantial. Criminal justice costs are a miniscule part of the federal budget. If you want a smaller government (not that anyone in these parts actually wants it; they just want fewer and shorter prison sentences), by far the major thing that has to be done is cut back on entitlements. The President's (thoroughly ignored, particularly by him) commission on debt reduction said exactly that.

P.S. The principal problem that needs solving is not sentencing for drug kingpins but the importation and use of illegal and dangerous drugs. When really greedy people stop doing the latter, we can all stop worrying about the former.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 28, 2011 3:35:11 PM

C'mon, Bill, are you really asserting that you think there is a real possibility that a relatively active federal DP (with, say, 10 executions per year) would really make it "radically less likely that we’re going to have drugs in this country"? Both pot and meth can be made here at home, and all the other evidence from the modern history of the US drug war suggests there is no criminal justice "silver bullet" just waiting to enacted. I think it is not hard to make an "educated guess" that reducing/regulating consumption, not killing a few kingpins, is the key to drying up this market (like every other illicit market).

As a fan of balanced budgets, I agree that we cannot get back to federal fiscal sanity by just stopping the federal drug war. But that was not my question: my question is whether the GOP's traditional commitment to smaller government takes a back-seat to a commitment to fight the drug war at the federal level. Because you were a federal drug warrior drawing a government paycheck for quite some time, I would not be surprised if you think the goals/benefits of the federal drug war are more important that the goals/benefits of smaller federal government. But it is hard issues like this one that shows a politician's and party's core commitments. And if the GOP keeps embracing the feds fighting the drug war at all costs, its advocacy for smaller government in other areas appear merely partisan, not principled.

Just trying to be "fair and balanced" in this arena, as always, Bill.

Posted by: Doug B, | Nov 28, 2011 5:59:42 PM

"C'mon, Bill, are you really asserting that you think there is a real possibility that a relatively active federal DP (with, say, 10 executions per year) would really make it 'radically less likely that we’re going to have drugs in this country'?"

What I am "really asserting" is that the drop in the likelihood is unknown, and that it won't be known unless the proposal is tried. Why take a guess?

Who would have guessed, for example, that the crime rate now would be HALF what it was 20 years ago? I am not aware of a single person who predicted that. Sometimes changes in the direction of law and social policy can have good and surprising results.

More broadly, it's not exactly a secret that when the costs, risks and hardships of doing X increase, less of X gets done. If, alone among human behaviors, conducting the drug trade is an exception to this rule, the case has not been made.

"...my question is whether the GOP's traditional commitment to smaller government takes a back-seat to a commitment to fight the drug war at the federal level."

As I noted, the costs of the federal drug laws -- indeed, the costs of the entire federal criminal justice system -- have next to nothing to do with "smaller government." There simply isn't enough there to amount to a drop in the ocean. When we get control of entitlements, the budget will be managable. Until then, it won't.

As with the DP, the costs of the drug laws are nothing more than a make-weight for people who held the exact same beliefs before discovering that the words "budget" or "debt" even existed.

And while we're at it, since the Democrats in control of the Senate want to protect entitlements, why don't they attack the deficit by enacting THEIR OWN cuts to the drug budget? Why is it always the Republicans' job to do for them? Doesn't Patrick Leahy wield the gavel anymore? Has he lost all his influence with Harry Reid?

"Because you were a federal drug warrior drawing a government paycheck for quite some time, I would not be surprised if you think the goals/benefits of the federal drug war are more important that the goals/benefits of smaller federal government."

I assure you it was non-partisan on my part. I was an AUSA under administrations of both parties, and grateful to have the job, albeit at a third to a quarter of my market value on the outside. (I was a political appointee only under the Repbulicans, however).

My decision to work for the feds came well before the country woke up to the fact that we are in way over our heads; in those days, cost was nothing like the consideration it is now. Still, the main point remains: The notion that the drug war contributes ANYTHING SIGNIFICANT to the overall deficit (now $15 trillion) is fiction.

"But it is hard issues like this one that shows a politician's and party's core commitments. And if the GOP keeps embracing the feds fighting the drug war at all costs, its advocacy for smaller government in other areas appear merely partisan, not principled."

There are some things worth going into debt for. One of the most obvious is the physical safety of the public, since that is government's No. 1 job. Thus, I support, for example, the bipartisan effort to restore the defense budget cuts adopted as part of the fallback position when the "Super Committee" failed. The reason for this is that I believe Secretary Panetta when he says that such cuts would "devastate" our military readiness.

Finally, although it won't make a bit of real difference, I am ready to support cutbacks in expenditures for US Attorneys and prisons -- combined with cutbacks for federal defenders and rehab programs. Oddly, your commenters seem all giddy for the former but just look at the ceiling when talk turns to the latter. But dollars saved are dollars saved. Why in the world are they so selective?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 28, 2011 6:52:31 PM

I wonder if Newt thinks that addiction to nicotine or alcohol "deprives one of full citizenship" and "leads to a dependency that is antithetical to being an American." If not, I'd love to hear his logic on the subject. (And so would Stephen Colbert, I bet.)

Posted by: flr | Nov 28, 2011 7:13:39 PM

bill: "He wasn't such a nut -- indeed, he was a far-sighted leader"

me: no, Newt Gingrich has always been a nut. His only act of being a "far sighted leader" was leading the Republicans off a cliff during the Clinton impeachment. With the "right on crime thing" the proper statement was "see, even a nut like Newt Gingrich says we are locking too many people up" :P

bill: "The principal problem that needs solving is not sentencing for drug kingpins but the importation and use of illegal and dangerous drugs."

me: especially since the true drug kingpins tend to not exactly be within the jurisdiction of the United States. However, given the state of poverty and social disruption which American foreign policy and its insistence on "free market" reforms has wraught in Mexico and other parts of Central and South America, stopping the illegal important of drugs would be impossible even if the involved governments wanted to. You do not have millions of desperate people - and a few powerful people who if money doesn't work as incentive to work for the cartels will kill entire families - without creating a whole lot of potential expendable people to serve as mules.

Even if you take out the cartel heads, new cartel heads will emerge. And the cycle of expoitation of the poor by the rich will continue.

Hence, Bill - the Drug War is doomed to failure - executing "drug kingpins" does nothing to change the economics of Mexico, Central America, and South America. It also does nothing to change the economics in the U.S. The U.S. (even aside from factors like having real drug kingpins working for the CIA during the Cold War) really has little interest to change the underlying economics of the drug war because it would require systemic change in our foreign policy and domestic economy.

But keep blaming "drug smuggling" on greed and leave aside the fact that drug smuggling reflects capitalism at its most pure - and ugly form.

Posted by: virginia | Nov 28, 2011 7:14:49 PM

bill: "As I noted, the costs of the federal drug laws -- indeed, the costs of the entire federal criminal justice system -- have next to nothing to do with "smaller government."

me: you are ignoring that the financial cost of federal law enforcement is only the tip of the iceberg - and maybe not even that - of the actual cost of the drug war. The bulk of the financial cost of the federal drug war actually take place at the state level where the majority of law enforcement costs and prison costs from drugs take place. But even adding in the state financial costs does not provide an accurate picture because it ignores the enormous social costs which have resulted from the drug war in the United States.

But even the social costs of the drug war in the United States does not reflect the actual cost of the drug war - in fact, the American costs of the drug war are prboably properly characterized as the tip of the iceberg, because the majority of the cost of our drug war is being paid by people in other countries. It is being paid by the poor people in Mexico, Central America, South America, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries - most obviously in Mexico where the drug war has led to near chaos right across the border from the U.S. Thousands of people a year are dying in Mexico in a fight to control distribution channels to the U.S. - their deaths and the deaths of people in other countries need to be included in the accounting of drug war costs to get an accurate count.

Focusing on the financial costs of the drug war - and ignoring the enormous social cost is very telling, Bill. Especially since the bulk of that social cost is being paid by people in other countries who are paying not in dollars but in blood. It is misleading in the extreme to pretend that the financial costs of the drug war are the real costs - it is the human cost in lives.

As I said before, if you really want to fight drugs, reform the world's economy to remove the social conditions which lead to drug production.

Posted by: virginia | Nov 28, 2011 7:53:33 PM

Bill and Newt are nuts!

I love circular arguments.

Do you have Soronel's precious sex-offender data to validate the most intelligent comment you ever made on this blog?

Bill, I am way more conservative than you. I can think clearly without the baggage.

Posted by: albeed | Nov 28, 2011 10:17:14 PM

So how is the "leader of a cartel" defined in the statute to make such a person death eligible, particularly considering Newt's comments seem to describe a person at the very top of the pyramid?

Posted by: Fred | Nov 29, 2011 1:01:27 AM

What are the chances of such a law being upheld in light of Kennedy v. Louisiana?

Posted by: C | Nov 29, 2011 9:04:41 AM

I would think that the chance of a drug kingpin being extrajudicially executed by rivals would far eclipse the chance of his being executed under US law, and thus Newt's proposal would have little impact.

But that's just my two cents.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Nov 29, 2011 10:09:12 AM

C--

About the same chance as Mississippi's personhood amendment being upheld in light of Roe/Casey, or the same chance of Ohio's Issue 3 trumping Obamacare, or the same chance that Arizona's SB 1433 has in light of the supremacy clause.

It's called the Republican legislative kowtowing--offer proposals that have zero chance of passing constitutional muster (or in some cases, even passing legislatures/referendums) solely to appease the base.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Nov 29, 2011 10:17:38 AM

"Thanks to the manipulation of federal powers, as in the lottery laws and the Harrison Act, federal authority over drugs, gambling, and illicit sex--classically local issues all--was well established long before Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal gave us a larger and more powerful federal government. The more important manipulation involved the definitions of relevant crimes. The Edmunds Act, the Mann Act, the Harrison Act: all these pieces of federal legislation extended criminal liability beyond the conduct Congress sought to target, presumable to make punishing the targeted behavior a simpler task. Hard-to-prove crimes need not be a problem; the crimes could simply be redefined to make proof easier. If some undeserving defendants fell within the justice system's grasp, well, that was the price of effective legal regulation. There was all to little legal virtue in America's long battle against vice." Stuntz, William J., The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, p 178.

Posted by: George | Nov 29, 2011 4:48:36 PM

Former federal drug warriors (a frightening breed), who claim the mantle of small government conservatism, are confused.

Nothing in more antithetical to libertarianism than the amoral boondoggle that is our federal government's war on drugs.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Nov 29, 2011 5:09:35 PM

Present capital defense lawyers who claim the mantle to define small government (or any other brand of) conservatism are confused.

Stick to defending child killers. At least you know the area.

P.S. If you have trouble with "drug warriors," take it up with your fellow Californian, Nancy Pelosi. For four years, she and Harry had Congress all to themselves, and for the last two with Obama there to sign anything they sent up. Wanna tell us what they did?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 29, 2011 6:27:39 PM

Res ipsa --

Did you forget, while (for the most part justifiably) emphasizing federal supremacy, the federal CSA, which makes illegal the possession and use of pot in any form for any reason?

Was California's "Compassionate Use Act" Democratic kowtowing -- a law that has zero chance to withstand contrary federal action at the federal government's sole discretion?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 29, 2011 6:34:14 PM

Bill, California's Compassionate Use Act was a voter initiative (Prop 215), not an act of the legislature and governor.

Posted by: C | Nov 29, 2011 7:32:46 PM

" There simply isn't enough there to amount to a drop in the ocean."

A principle is distinction in kind not of degree. So the fact that there is any droplets there at all, even one drop in the whole universe means that your vaunted desire for smaller government isn't a principle at all, just a sham.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 29, 2011 9:57:12 PM

C --

The referendum was implemented by SB 420, an act passed by the legislature and signed by Grey Davis in 2003.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2011 12:06:08 AM

Does Bill Otis see everything through the lens of Republican vs. Democrat?

Many of us liberal defense attorneys are thoroughly disgusted with the Obama Administration --- with its due process free assassinations, with its Bush-like use of the executive branch to unilaterally carry out military misadventures, with its revolting crackdown on those who engage in physician-authorized use of a medicinal herb, etc.

But, coming back to the topic at hand. In the "minds" of the true believers in the war on drugs, are there no limits? Is life in prison for possession of a quarter pound of smack OK? Is death for slinging a few kilos of crack fine and dandy? Do you think the substances themselves are evil? Why do you care what I put in my body in my own backyard on a Saturday afternoon? Do you, like Newt, know what is better for me than I do? Are you Big Brother?

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Nov 30, 2011 12:20:27 AM

California Capital Defense Counsel --

"Does Bill Otis see everything through the lens of Republican vs. Democrat?"

Maybe five percent of what I say here is written about partisan politics. I wrote this one that way because I was responding to Res ipsa's remark about "Republican kowtowing." I apologize if I offended the Killers Are Nifty branch of the criminal defense bar.

"Many of us liberal defense attorneys are thoroughly disgusted with the Obama Administration --- with its due process free assassinations..."

Still weeping for Osama? And still wondering why the public thinks as it does of the criminal defense bar?

As to your last paragraph: Either get the law changed or obey it. For me to have to say this to a lawyer (or someone who anonymously claims to be a lawyer) is just astounding. The fact that you dislike a law or find it stupid or authoritarian does not in any way, form or fashion entitle you to disregard it.

You had your chance in Prop 19 and blew it. Don't complain to me about it. And even if you passed it, you are required to obey federal law, period. If you get to pick and choose which laws you obey, do I get to as well? Do your clients get to? Does anyone at all get to?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2011 12:36:11 AM

Bill --

I know you're proud that you spit from in front of the curtain rather than from behind it, but it (spitting) still makes you look kind of pathethic.

Posted by: law-one | Nov 30, 2011 11:57:52 AM

Bill--

Never said it didn't go the other way too sometimes. But my perception (which admittedly may be wrong) is that it happens a lot more on conservative issues. It's pretty much the norm in Ohio, which is pretty close to one-party rule.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Nov 30, 2011 1:00:37 PM

CCDC stated: "Many of us liberal defense attorneys are thoroughly disgusted with the Obama Administration --- with its due process free assassinations, with its Bush-like use of the executive branch to unilaterally carry out military misadventures, with its revolting crackdown on those who engage in physician-authorized use of a medicinal herb, etc."

I suspect you are but there is one huge difference. When Bush was doing it, you were all breathlessly screaming to every corner of the country that Hitler II was was singlehandedly dismantling the constitution to everyone that would listen. For Obama? A slightly terse note on a crime policy blog. For Bush, you defense attorneys were taking up 40 minutes of each hour on each news program. For Obama, a yawn and you will still vote for him.

Yet you want to talk about the Republican vs. Democrat lens?

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Nov 30, 2011 6:28:40 PM

Our government's execution of al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son was nifty.

Our government's mindless perpetuation of the devastating war on drugs is splendid.

The belief that it is wrong to defend those charged with heinous crimes, viz., capital murder.

These are all mindsets of big-government authoritarians, who often claim to be small-government conservatives.

They know better than the rest of us. We need them to regulate and control us.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Nov 30, 2011 8:53:00 PM

Bill:

"If you get to pick and choose which laws you obey, do I get to as well? Do your clients get to? Does anyone at all get to?"

Bill, in my state MOST FORMS OF AFFECTION outside of marriage are considered felonies. Adultery is a felony. I have not seen it prosecuted since 1956. So everyone who commits adultery, (I won't get into french-kissing in the closet, petting in parked cars, touching the inside of a thigh (penetration?), should be registered as a sex-offender. Otherwise, law defenders are being selective.

The legally bastardized thinking of those hungry for power to criminalize more human activities (think FDA and Cigars) should be examined under a microscope, as I do your thinking!

PS: The REP. vs. DEM dichotomy was lost long ago. Think of absolute power corrupts absolutely. Your JUST US system with a SWAT team on every block.

Posted by: albeed | Nov 30, 2011 10:10:14 PM

Calif. Capital Defense Counsel --

"Our government's execution of al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son was nifty."

How passing strange it is that a capital defense lawyer is unable to distinguish a wartime casualty from an "execution."

"Our government's mindless perpetuation of the devastating war on drugs is splendid."

Then get the drug laws repealed. This you have failed to do for forty years, under very conservative Congresses and very liberal ones. It might dawn on some people that such a uniform record of failure over such a long time suggests your arguments are lacking. But it never occurs to you. What's it like to be infallible?

"These are all mindsets of big-government authoritarians, who often claim to be small-government conservatives."

You have less than no clue what conservatives think, be they small government conservatives or otherwise.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 1, 2011 12:27:00 AM

law-one --

If you have an argument to make, feel free.

Oh............sorry..............didn't really think so.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 1, 2011 12:28:57 AM

Bill --

Glad to see you don't deny that you're a spitter. Are you capable of making an argument without it (spitting)?

Posted by: law-one | Dec 1, 2011 12:27:20 PM

hmm got to call you on this one bill!

""Our government's execution of al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son was nifty."

How passing strange it is that a capital defense lawyer is unable to distinguish a wartime casualty from an "execution."

I must have slept though the vote of congress to DECLARE WAR on ANYONE. last time i looked there hasn't been a LEGAL DECLARATION OF WAR since 1941

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 1, 2011 12:44:31 PM

law-one --

"Glad to see you don't deny that you're a spitter."

I haven't denied that I beat my wife, either. Is this your middle school version of "contributing" to the discussion?

"Are you capable of making an argument without it (spitting)?"

Someone like you views disagreement per se as "spitting," so I'm not expecting you to view anything I say as worthwhile. Others, including the national media, do, so I can't think of any reason why I should care what you think. To be honest, I couldn't think of a reason even if you had any professional standing or took enough responsibility for what you say to sign your name.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 1, 2011 11:06:17 PM

Bill --

Glad to see you care enough to always respond to my comments.

Posted by: law-one | Dec 2, 2011 2:08:01 PM

Bill Otis: "When we get control of entitlements, the budget will be managable. Until then, it won't."

What entitlements are those, Bill Otis? Are you going to use that same tired lie about Social Security that all Ayn Rand elitists use as an excuse for getting rid of it?

Bill Otis: "And while we're at it, since the Democrats in control of the Senate want to protect entitlements, why don't they attack the deficit by enacting THEIR OWN cuts to the drug budget? "

Bill Otis: "My decision to work for the feds came well before the country woke up to the fact that we are in way over our heads; in those days, cost was nothing like the consideration it is now. Still, the main point remains: The notion that the drug war contributes ANYTHING SIGNIFICANT to the overall deficit (now $15 trillion) is fiction."

The Republicans were in control of the House & Senate during 104th-109th Congress - from 1995 to 2007. One would have to ask himself why it is the Conservative party, during the majority of G.W.'s term, failed to CONSERVE while fighting a war and an invasion! A half-black guy gets elected, the Dems get control of Congress and it's the D's who broke the piggy bank. Why do elitists like yourself get short term memory loss when you get even partial control of Congress? California's Prop 215 passed in 1996. That gave the bigoted, elitist Republican party about 11 years to make cuts, period. Where was the leadership?? Republicans = The do as we say, not as we do party. Pat yourselves on the back for standing up to the 1%.

Posted by: Huh? | Dec 2, 2011 11:50:20 PM

that is... Pat yourselves on the back for standing up FOR the 1%.

Posted by: Huh? | Dec 2, 2011 11:52:02 PM

Bill Otis: "P.S. If you have trouble with "drug warriors," take it up with your fellow Californian, Nancy Pelosi. For four years, she and Harry had Congress all to themselves, and for the last two with Obama there to sign anything they sent up. Wanna tell us what they did?"

Hypocrite! Where are the jobs?? What has John "Boner" Boehner done? How many Democrats signed petitions promising to protect the top 1%? You're in denail, Bill Otis.

Posted by: Huh? | Dec 3, 2011 12:04:27 AM

Calif. Capital Defense Counsel: "Does Bill Otis see everything through the lens of Republican vs. Democrat?"

Bill Otis is an immoderate. Legalizing ganja apparently also decriminalizes crack, heroin and meth. Can't really blame him though. Those who run, control and have bought government know that they can do whatever they want and there is little the majority will do about it. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I blame the ignorance of Americans in general.

Posted by: Huh? | Dec 3, 2011 12:17:06 AM

Frankly, biggest "drug kingpins" are the phramaceutical companies and doctors pushing opiate-based painkillers.

Posted by: Jeffrey Reynolds, Ph.D | Dec 15, 2011 8:30:22 AM

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