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June 11, 2014

Could the Tea Party take down of Eric Cantor increase the chances of more federal sentencing reform?

The huge federal political news this week is the suprising and noteworthy primary defeat of House Majority leader Eric Cantor to relative unknown college professor David Brat, who seems to be a variation on the Tea Party brand.  This Fox News piece provides a good review of what may and may not explain Cantor's defeat and what this outcome may or may not mean for national politics.  

As the title of this post highlights, and as regular readers will not be surprised to see, I am already thinking about what the notable new GOP election news and the shakeup in GOP House leadership could mean for federal sentencing reform.  To my knowledge, neither out-going leader Cantor, nor any of the names being discussed as his possible replacement, have been vocal opponents or proponents of the Smarter Sentencing Act or other recent statutory sentencing reform proposals working their way around Capitol Hill.  But, as regular readers know well, the Tea Party wing of the GOP has emerged as a significant supporter of significant federal sentencing reforms. 

Senator Rand Paul, as this new local article highlights, continues to tour the nation talking up "criminal-justice reforms, sentencing reform, restoration of voting rights."  Another Tea Party favorite, Senator Mike Lee, is a cosponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act, and Senator Ted Cruz supported the SSA in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  In addition, most of the members of the House who have talked at all about sentencing reform have tended to be on the Tea Party rather than on the establishment side of the GOP.

Because I have never been able to understand, let alone reasonably predict, inside-the-Beltway happenings, I am not going to assert that the Smarter Sentencing Act or other federal sentencing reform proposals have a much greater chance of passage now than they did earlier this week.  But I am going to keep reminding folks that any good news for the more-libertarian-leaning Tea Party wing of the GOP is likely also good new for those eager to see changes in the federal criminal justice status quo.

Some older and recent posts on the "new politics" of sentencing reform:

June 11, 2014 at 05:07 PM | Permalink

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Comments

In my view the loss on Cantor is a double-edged sword for the tea party. On one hand, Cantor was obviously speaking with a forked tongue on some issues dear to their hearts and the rank and file were understandably outraged. On the other hand Cantor was the only one of the leadership team who took tea arty concerns seriously (even if he was ultimately pandering.) So the defeat of Cantor is an ironic victory. It sends a symbolic message at the cost of real world influence. The genuine test will be what happens in November and whether the tea party can elect one of their own to the leadership team afterwards. If they can do so, Cantor's defeat will be seen as a portent. If if not, it will fade into history as an anomaly.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 11, 2014 8:36:30 PM

that's all very true Daniel. But it couldn't have happened to a more deserving two-faced crook.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 12, 2014 10:44:24 AM

I think the defeat of Cantor makes it unlikely that anything substantive will happen in the House for the rest of the year. Enough members still have primaries in August and September to not want to take any tough votes until after the August recess. After the primaries are done, the only thing that Congress will work on is getting some appropriations bills passed to allow the members to go home and campaign. Maybe if there is a lame duck session, some work can get done on some bills, but I doubt that sentencing reform will be at the top of the list.

Posted by: tmm | Jun 12, 2014 11:27:08 AM

good one tmm but the problem is they have been there for years if not decades and STILL haven't done anything substantive or useful.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 14, 2014 12:36:55 AM

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