« Los Angeles Times calls out our "no-pardon president" | Main | "UK group says it's suing over US execution drug" »

November 2, 2010

A sentencing fan's Election Day guide

Today's elections (in which I have already voted) do not present numerous major crime and punishment story lines to follow.  But there is one super-duper important direct democracy initiative to watch and  plenty of major (and minor) federal and state races that sentencing fans should keep an eye on.  Here I will briefly spotlight a few of my own (idiosyncratic?) sentencing law and policy takes on today's experiment in democracy:

1.  A real prospect for libertarian change at the federal level: The Tea Party Movement is not obviously committed to all the libertarian principles that would call for massive scaling back of the drug war and mass incarceration.  Nevertheless, the new blood pushing the Republican Party, from Rand Paul to Sarah Palin, seems much more committed to individual liberty and smaller federal government than most of the big-government statists now in Congress representing both parties.

Only a naive optimist could seriously predict that the next Congress will want or will be able to make healthy (and needed) reform of the federal criminal justice system a top priority.  Nevertheless, my inherently optimistic streak leads me to believe that if President Obama wants to move forward with shrewd reform advocacy (e.g., if he says "The Era of Big Government (spending on local crime issues) is over"), he might find a surprisingly receptive audience across the aisle after this election.

2.  A real need to keeping getting real about correction budgets at the state level: The last few years have seen numerous states finally dealing with the significant cost consequences of the "tough-on-crime" mass incarceration binge that defined the 1990s crime politics and policies.  But at least a few notable states (e.g., California and Florida and my own Ohio) have so far avoided making some really tough criminal justice spending choices while this election cycle was heating up.  I do not know which candidates in these states are most likely to deal with these fiscal realities most effectively, but I am sure that persistent economic challenges entail that all state officials elected in 2010 will need to get up to speed on these pressing budget and public safety issues ASAP.

3.  A new dawn (maybe) on pot prohibition and the entire drug war: As regular readers surely already know, I view California's Proposition 19 to be extremely consequential because its passage would be a huge step toward ending pot prohibition and toward serious reconsideration of the entire "war on drugs."  Indeed, even if Prop 19 loses but gets at least 40% of the total vote (and more than 50% of younger voters), we likely will continue to see robust and healthy discussion of the costs and benefits of pot prohibition and other aspects of the drug war.  But if Prop 19 goes down badly, say 65% to 35%, the process of retreating from the worst aspects of the drug war will continue to proceed very, very slowly.

Some related posts on the 2010 election and sentencing issues:

November 2, 2010 at 10:06 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A sentencing fan's Election Day guide:


Most important change by far: Lamar Smith replaces John Conyers.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 2, 2010 11:36:01 AM

The Field Poll has some interesting data on Prop. 19, noted at C&C.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Nov 2, 2010 11:42:33 AM

"the new blood pushing the Republican Party, from Rand Paul to Sarah Palin, seems much more committed to individual liberty"

I am surprised you buy into this frame, which is from the same folks who brought us "enhanced interrogation," the "blue skies initiative," etc. Can you truly picture President Palin enacting meaningful sentencing reform?

I am not claiming that the Democrats can rightfully claim to have enacted it (Although Webb's work on the issue has been refreshing), only that the claim that Palin is pro individual liberty and rights is simply a frame designed to accompany the larger frame that Obama is a socialist and against personal liberties and I'm surprised you repeat it verbatim without analysis.

For example, where do you suppose a Palin nominated Justice would come down on the issue of torture, sorry "enhanced interrogation?" The question answers itself and yet it seems you , like so many others, assume that you can be both pro liberty and pro torture, as if the increased use of the latter expands the viability of the former.

Posted by: David | Nov 2, 2010 12:21:34 PM

Why don't you openly acknowledge your official libertarian affiliations, Doc?

Posted by: Anon | Nov 2, 2010 1:02:15 PM

I do not have any "official libertarian affiliations" to my knowledge, though maybe you know something I don't, Anon. I obviously have lots of libertarian leanings, especially in the context of crime and punishment theory and practice. But I try to be pretty open and candid about all this.

And, speaking of being candid, I will readily report that I did not vote for any of the candidates running for office as a part of the Libertarian Party on my Ohio ballot. (I believe I had at least two Libertarian Party candidates options.)

Meanwhile, David, I know of no connection between Rand Paul or Sarah Palin and the Bush's administration's affinity for "enhanced interrogation." In addition, given than Ronald Reagan was the US President who signed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and that Palin often invokes the Gipper, I think I can imagine President Palin enacting meaningful sentencing reform. More importantly, given that President Obama and his party have failed to make any serious progress on meaningful sentencing reform during the last two years, I do not think I am completely misguided in hoping that some new blood could at least shake up the status quo statists who now prevent serious sentencing reforms from moving forward.

As for whom President Palin would nominate to the Supreme Court, wow that is a fun question to consider. Any initial thoughts? Dare anyone suggest Chirstine O'Donnell? Katie Couric?

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 2, 2010 3:39:58 PM

Doug --

It cracked me up that you were "accused" of being a libertarian. I'll bet you torture puppies in your basement, too.

Anybody who follows the blog knows that freedom is your calling card. You carry it to an extent, and in ways, with which I do not agree, but the idea that you're a Secret Agent of the Right is hilarious.

Lord only knows what Sarah Palin would do as President. I think the Republican Party would be best advised to move away from the candidates or quasi-candidates of the past and onto a new crop such as John Thune, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio or possibly Tim Pawlenty.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 2, 2010 4:20:22 PM

Are there any women in the new crop of Republicans you like, Bill? Politics aside, as a father who hopes his daughters have a "new crop" of female political role models that do not merely have a notable surname like Dole or Clinton or Kennedy or Bush. I am hopeful (but not optimistic) that both parties will help me out here, and I am disappointed that your list does not include ny women.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 2, 2010 4:40:46 PM

In addition, given than Ronald Reagan was the US President who signed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and that Palin often invokes the Gipper, I think I can imagine President Palin enacting meaningful sentencing reform.

Bug Doug, the SRA generally resulted in more imprisonment, not less. It was enacted in the name of consistency, but generally it made sentences consistently higher, either nominally or through the abolition of parole.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Nov 2, 2010 4:51:11 PM

Marc, are you saying the Sentencing "Reform" Act was a little like the Blue Skies initiative? My fear is that this alleged new crop- with a few exceptions- is instead just the distilled leftovers of the old crop, not new wine but a new label on the same old stuff, astroturf, not grassroots, less about Rand Paul than Rand, Ayn again.

Maybe I'm just skeptical, though, from all those broken Obama campaign promises.

Posted by: David | Nov 2, 2010 5:56:17 PM

Doug --

Carly Fiorina could be a possibility, but I don't know that much about her, and it will be an uphill struggle for her to win tonight against Boxer.

Other than that, I'm about out of ideas. I didn't think Ms. Palin was qualified to be President two years ago and I still don't. I like some of her ideas, but ideas are only a start.

Someone could emerge tonight that I don't know about. Marco Rubio was unheard of a year ago, and now he's a conservative hot property. So one never knows.

I do, however, promise to vote for your daughters for President, if I'm still around when they run. Of course, if I move to Chicago, I could vote for them even if I'm NOT around.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 2, 2010 5:58:57 PM

Marc, in fact the SRA was/is severity neutral, but the passage of mandatory minimums by a DEMOCRATIC Congress in 1986 set the path toward great consistency meaning more prison time (aided by a US Sentencing Commission led largely by now-Justice Steven Breyer). Also woth noting is that Reagan presided over a decrease in incarceration levels in California when he was Governor there.

In the end, I share David's skepticism of all the old GUYS, which is why I am always happy to see new blood in Congress.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 2, 2010 6:09:31 PM

I think we are approaching the happy day when very few people care if the candidate is male or female. There has been little mention of that dimension in California this year in both the primary and general elections.

Every conservative I know admires Margaret Thatcher and would vote for an American Maggie in a heartbeat. Now we just have to find her.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Nov 2, 2010 6:43:28 PM

Incarceration exploded during the Clinton Administration. Was there more crime, or more money and personnel for enforcement? Was there more aggressive charging?

Belt tightening is probably in order. Local Law enforcement personnel are part of the stimulus program - I guess this can be defined as shovel ready.

Posted by: beth | Nov 2, 2010 11:40:36 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB