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April 10, 2013

"The most interesting part of [Rand Paul's] speech was his widely anticipated defense of drug law reform."

The title of this post is drawn from this early report via Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post concerning Senator Rand Paul's notable policy speech today at Howard University. Here is some context and more content from Rubin's strong first-cut analysis of Senator Rand's efforts (with one particular line emphasized by me):

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delivered an important and intriguing speech at Howard University as part of his determined effort to expand the reach of the GOP and take his message everywhere.

His remarks, as prepared for delivery, highlighted the best and the worst aspects of his thinking, and they left some question marks....

The most interesting part of the speech was his widely anticipated defense of drug law reform.  “I am working with Democratic senators to make sure that kids who make bad decisions, such as non-violent possession of drugs, are not imprisoned for lengthy sentences.  I am working to make sure that first-time offenders are put into counseling and not imprisoned with hardened criminals.  We should not take away anyone’s future over one mistake.”  He described two young men, one white and privileged and the other mixed race and modest in income, who could have had their lives ruined by a drug arrest. He concluded with a kicker: “Instead, they both went on to become presidents of the United States. But for the grace of God, it could have turned out much differently.”

He then explained his opposition to mandatory minimum sentences:

"Our federal mandatory minimum sentences are simply heavy-handed and arbitrary. They can affect anyone at any time, though they disproportionately affect those without the means to fight them.  We should stand and loudly proclaim enough is enough. We should not have laws that ruin the lives of young men and women who have committed no violence.  That’s why I have introduced a bill to repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences.  We should not have drug laws or a court system that disproportionately punishes the black community."...

It was a nervy effort on his part, and a sincere one, I think, to explain his views to an audience not enamored of his party or philosophy. He should do more of it, and in more concrete terms, to persuade and explain how his philosophy works and why liberalism doesn’t.

He is a force to be reckoned with; liberals and conservatives ignore him at their own risk. If nothing else, he demonstrated that a forceful reiteration of history can illuminate the Republican Party and that conservatism deserves a fair hearing. That’s more than 90 percent of Republicans have done.

Regular readers (and certainly my dad and close friends) know that my political commitments lean toward the libertarian, and thus I was inclined to be a fan of Senator Rand Paul from the get-go. More broadly, as regular readers and others surely know, I strongly believe our modern federal criminal justice system ought not be so committed to costly big national government one-size-fits-all solutions for what seem, at least to me, to often be local small community diverse problems. Thus, I am especially excited that Senator Paul is apparently committed to bringing his libertarian perspective to the arena of federal criminal justice reform.

But the single sentence I have highlighted above reflect a different theme and one that strikes a different chord with my own philosophical commitments. Saying that "We should not take away anyone’s future over one mistake," reflects not a unique political philosophy but rather suggests a kind of personal moral philosophy grounded in a deep commitment to (1) recognizing the reality of human fallibility, and (2) embracing the potential for human improvement and achievement even after a human mistake is made.

Of course, if one really accepts this kind of deep moral commitment and wants criminal laws to reflect this commitment, there are a whole lot of important sentencing implications beyond reform of federal drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing terms. Such a personal moral philosophy, at least in my view, would necessarily call for eliminating the death penalty and LWOP for any and all first offenders, and it might even call for eliminating any imprisonment any and all first offenders. But I do not want to, at least right now, start setting out a script for just how Senator Rand Paul should seek to operationalize his political and personal philosophies. For now I just want to (a) celebrate the fact that he is really starting to talk the talk on long-needed federal criminal justice reforms, and (b) continue to get excited about how he will be soon walking the walk on long-needed federal criminal justice reforms.

Some recent and older related posts:

April 10, 2013 at 01:55 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Does Sen. Paul favor legalization of meth and heroin? I've been trying to find out, but am coming up dry. Does anyone know the answer and have a source?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2013 2:06:21 PM

I think he is a "no" on legalization of hard drugs.
http://reason.com/24-7/2013/03/25/rand-paul-favor-backing-off-drug-war-but
And during campaign he said - unsurprisingly given that he is a conservative - that while he personally opposed even medicinal marijuana legalization he thought it was a state issue:
http://blogcritics.org/politics/article/rand-paul-clarifies-position-on-drugs/

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Apr 10, 2013 2:30:46 PM

"We should not take away anyone’s future over one mistake."

I agree -- if it's actually a mistake.

Selling drugs to some teenage addict to raise dough for your first class airfare to see the fights in Vegas is not a mistake. It's a decision.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2013 2:31:31 PM

Bill, then you disagree with him. I don't think he is using "mistake" to mean "accident." I think he is using mistake to mean bad decision. Yes, using and selling illegal drugs is a decision. I think his question goes to whether George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Rick Santorum, to name a few, should be disqualified from being elected to high office solely because they all "decided" to use illegal drugs.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Apr 10, 2013 2:37:38 PM

Thinkaboutit --

Words have meanings, and Rand Paul is not exempt from this fact.

Mere "mistake" has no moral overtones. A greed-driven "decision" to sell dangerous drugs because it's easier to get money that way than by having a normal job has plenty of moral overtones, all bad.

I don't think anyone should be disqualified from high office simply by virtue of having, at some distant point, made a greed-driven or even a mildly lawless decision (murder, rape, robbery, etc., are not "mild"). We don't have any perfect human beings down here. I think instead that there should be full and honest disclosure by Candidate X (and by Candidates Y and Z), so that the voters can decide, all things considered, who's the best (or least bad) choice.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2013 2:51:20 PM

Thinkaboutit --

Just saw your response on Rand, pot, and the harder drugs.

Many thanks.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2013 3:08:19 PM

Considering the racial context of the speech as a whole, I thought it was very rhetorically clever how he made the sentencing-reform pitch at the end not primarily a racial issue but a stoner/screwup-college-kid issue.

Posted by: JWB | Apr 10, 2013 3:36:03 PM

Joining the Republican Party is a decision and a mistake.

Rand -- what are you doing in the Republican party? They shut your dad out of the 2008 RNC convention. They violated their own rules in connection with your dad's delegates in 2012. They laughed at your father during the debates when he expressed his foreign policy views. I'd be stunned if the Republicans give you much support on this crime and punishment issue. I doubt the average Republican could stomach being perceived as softer on crime than the average Democrat. Your remarks about mandatory minimums and proportionate sentencing for non-violent offenses are right on the mark, but they will fall on deaf ears in the Republican Party.

Posted by: Scarlett Rose | Apr 10, 2013 4:24:10 PM

nice bill!

"Thinkaboutit --

Words have meanings, and Rand Paul is not exempt from this fact.

Mere "mistake" has no moral overtones. A greed-driven "decision" to sell dangerous drugs because it's easier to get money that way than by having a normal job has plenty of moral overtones, all bad."

But the real question is did you also apply this reasoning when you caught a cop testilying on the stand and they "misspoke" and got CAUGHT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 10, 2013 4:42:47 PM

Scarlett Rose --

When I asked you whether you favor legalizing hard drugs, you just ran away.

I see you've re-appeared.

Do you favor legalizing them?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2013 5:12:33 PM

A person who thinks states should decide basic liberty questions is not really a "libertarian" and this was shown repeatedly by his dad, who on issue after issue was not really much of a "libertarian" as much as a state rights sort.

I'm all for him supporting reform here, but the 'he is a conservative' will seem accurate to me until he is for the rights of all regarding such things like personal use of marijuana, abortion, gay rights, people in Gitmo, and so forth.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 10, 2013 5:54:44 PM

Rodsmith, if that question is to me, I have no idea what you are talking about.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Apr 10, 2013 8:56:43 PM

Prof Bermans statement is the best out of this thread.
More broadly, as regular readers and others surely know, I strongly believe our modern federal criminal justice system ought not be so committed to costly big national government one-size-fits-all solutions for what seem, at least to me, to often be local small community diverse problems.

So more things need to be left for the local area... Yes....Exactly..We donot need the parental approach that the feds use.. We are bigger and smarter, therefore we will handle it all for you..
The whiz kids tried this with the new miltary rifles, they altered the ammo etc...More GI's died over that than the entire war seemingly...The guns got dirty and failed.. (McNamara group)..They did no field testing or had prior knowledge of the conditions, nor did they care.. They wanted it done their way..

This pretty well sums up the federal guidelines.. They want it done there way...and here we are.
And no I don't believe we should legalize any drug...We just cannot warehouse people for 20-40 yrs even life, for drug addiction.. Its a real easy fix for the feds, just put'em away...
If so, we need to do the same with corrupt congressmen and federal judges and Ausa then as well, no free passes for these scum bags.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Apr 11, 2013 9:52:00 AM

sorry thinkaboutit. that was to bill and referenced his reply to your post.

Back when he was a federal prosecutor just wondered how he handled the actions of testilying cops on the stand when they were caught.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 11, 2013 4:34:53 PM

rod --

If you were a cop, if you were the Pope, if you were the defendant or in the defendant's meth gang, believe me, you did not want to get caught perjuring yourself in a trial for which I was responsible.

Of course, you should remember that I was in charge of appeals, not trials. But if I had been -- same result.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 11, 2013 7:32:52 PM

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