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May 29, 2015

Highlighting that GOP candidates are so far way ahead of candidate Hillary Clinton on mandatory minimum reforms

Jacob Sullum has this new Reason posting which highlight that, so far, two high-profile Republican candidate for President have had more interesting and important things to say about mandatory minimum reform than the presumptive Democratic nominee.  The piece is headlined "Paul and Cruz Are Running to Clinton's Left on Sentencing Reform: The presumptive Democratic nominee wants to do something about mandatory minimums but won't say what." Here are excerpts:

In its story on the repeal of Nebraska's death penalty,The New York Times notes that "liberals and conservatives have been finding common ground on a range of criminal justice issues in Washington and around the country." One example it cites: "On the presidential trail, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have all called for easing mandatory minimum sentences." That is literally true, but the implied equivalence is misleading, since the two Republicans are advocating specific reforms, while Clinton has not ventured beyond vague generalities...

Although Clinton refers to "measures," she cites just one: the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007, which she cosponsored six months after it was introduced. That bill, which would have eliminated the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and cocaine powder, did not go anywhere. Three years later, Congress almost unanimously approved a law that reduced crack penalties, although they are still more severe than the penalties for powder. If you combine Clinton's talk about reform with her end note referring to the 2007 bill, you might surmise that she thinks the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine should be treated the same. But as far as I know she has not said that explicitly or endorsed any other specific change in sentencing.

By contrast, Paul on Cruz are both on record as supporting substantial sentencing reforms, including, in Paul's case, effectively abolishing mandatory minimums. "I am here to ask that we begin today the end of mandatory minimum sentencing," Paul said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2013.  On Bill Maher's HBO show last fall, Paul declared, "I want to end the war on drugs because it's wrong for everybody, but particularly because poor people are caught up in this, and their lives are ruined by it."  I have never heard Clinton take a position halfway as bold as those, and I doubt I ever will.

It is pretty striking when self-identified conservatives seeking the Republican presidential nomination are more credible on criminal justice reform than the presumptive Democratic nominee.  Paul in particular is not only bolder than Clinton on this issue, which is traditionally identified with left-leaning Democrats, but more passionate as well. 

May 29, 2015 at 10:32 AM | Permalink


Two people unlikely to win say more while supporting various conservative policies that will hurt criminal defendants and their families in various ways. BTW, I was not aware Rand Paul was for full drug legalization. His actual proposals don't. They provide useful tweaks including the medicinal marijuana bill he supported along with Clinton booster Kirsten Gillibrand. But, both Cruz and Paul have been known to be great talkers while their actions are a tad less impressive.

I welcome the conversation and moves by conservatives to improve things, but you know, relax Reason.

Posted by: Joe | May 29, 2015 10:42:52 AM

Paul is not a Conservative, he is a Libertarian. The two are not synonymous.

Ted Cruz is "high profile" because he is loud, not because he is significant (currently around seventh among Republican presidential candidates and unlikely to make it to South Carolina). While not quite a libertarian, he is certainly in favor of a federal government that is basically limited to nation defense (if we had a label for his political philosophy, "Anti-federalist" would come closest). Again, it is the media need to put everyone on a liberal-conservative scale that makes the position of these two shocking to some.

If you ignore the criminal justice aspects of the question and labeled it as a proposal to reduce federal executive power, their positions are as would be expected.

Posted by: tmm | May 30, 2015 10:35:39 AM

"Paul is not a Conservative, he is a Libertarian. The two are not synonymous."

Paul on abortion, marriage equality and other issues has shown to be conservative, which basically explains why he is a member of the Republican Party. I readily admit "libertarian" is often a loose term, but quite honestly, I don't feel bad about not using it for this sort of cafeteria libertarian. He has libertarian tendencies, but so do many Democrats, but if they aren't consistent about it, I won't label them such either.

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, expressly labeled himself as "conservative" on his campaign website. I checked this out when Prof. Eugene Volokh endorsed him. No, he does not think the federal government should be limited only to national defense. Sorry. Let's not make stuff up here. If he doesn't think a good chunk of the actual enumerated powers given to Congress et. al. not applying to national defense are either trivial ("basically" don't count) or wrong, maybe you can cite writings to that extent. For instance, banning nationally abortions at twenty weeks. Is that national defense or "basically" trivial?

Cruz is significant because of his efforts and skill to be a leading light in effect the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. In this respect, he is significant -- he's an important voice in the party currently in control of the Senate. His cachet there also makes him an important voice in the presidential race for his party -- he is important is setting the conservative (sic) brand there. There are I would note different varieties of conservative here. The media and others might oversimplify this (e.g., conservatives voted in Nebraska against the death penalty), but those who self-designate as conservative (ditto) like Cruz or act that way (like Paul in various ways, this being a tad more arguable) are correctly so labeled.

Cruz is not against "federal executive power," full stop. tmm specifically said as much with the apparently open-ended "national security" loophole. If abortion rights etc. also can be included, the matter is a tad more nuanced. Like usual in the area of federalism, it is not a matter of neutral principles -- certain categories are seen as local. As with medicinal marijuana, the application is appreciatively more balanced than it often is in the past, but let's be clear only so far.

At the end of the day, a Pres. Clinton will in various ways reduce executive power in ways "conservative" Ted Cruz in particular would not support. It depends on one's belief on the specifics. Likewise, again, for specific people in the criminal justice system, including for those who need health care etc., very well might lose out with a Pres. Paul, especially depending on what his judicial picks do. The results there might be more mixed but given Paul's acts over his words, by how much is rather debatable. It's all academic anyhow. Unlikely either will be the nominee. Which makes it much easier for them to put forth more detailed comments. Ditto a Bernie Sanders.

Posted by: Joe | May 30, 2015 11:53:49 AM

One of the major reasons that we do NOT know what the Democrats think is because they are doing their damnedest to either distance themselves from the real press, or are so far left that we don't need them to enunciate their already-known opinion (empty jails, reduce sentences, denude police from arrest procedures). The only emphasis that both parties agree on is the expansion of the sex offender registry and sentencing laws; everyone else back on the street. No arrests means "fewer criminal convictions" = "safer communities." Just like the "actively improving economy" because those that have given up looking for work are no longer counted as "unemployed."

It's a mad mad mad mad mad world. The democrats will guarantee the destruction of this country faster than light speed.

Posted by: Eric Knight | May 30, 2015 4:22:46 PM

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