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November 22, 2018

So very thankful this year that so very many voices on the political right are actively advocating for criminal justice reforms

As regular readers know, I have long thought and advocated that all sorts of conservatives could and should robustly embrace all sorts of criminal justice reform given avowed commitments to personal liberty, small government, human dignity and the rule of law.  Almost exactly a decade ago in this 2008 Harvard Law & Policy Online article, published right after Prez Obama was elected to his first term, I urged progressives to start "aggressively reaching out to modern conservatives and libertarians in order to forge new coalitions to attack the many political and social forces that contribute to mass incarceration."  I further suggested:

Progressives, rather than categorically resisting calls for smaller government, should encourage modern conservatives and libertarians to turn their concerns and energies toward improving America’s criminal justice systems.  Areas where harsh criminal laws appear to be driven by government efforts to hyper-regulate often intangible harms, such as extreme mandatory sentencing statutes related to drug crimes and gun possession, seem especially likely settings for a convergence of views and new alliances for advocacy efforts.  Specific, issue-based advocacy may allow progressives to forge coalitions with unexpected allies in order to work against some of the most unjust modern sentencing laws and policies.

The kinds of coalitions I was hoping to see started to emerge (albeit too slowly for my taste) during the Obama Administration, and now they appear to be on full display as discussion of federal reforms finds expression in the debate over the FIRST STEP Act.  And so today I find myself especially thankful that it is now so much easier to find right-leaning organization and voices calling for the passage of federal reforms rather than resisting such reform.  Here, for example, is just a quick round up of just some recent voices on the political right actively advocating for the FIRST STEP Act:

From Politico, "Religious right to start pressure campaign around criminal justice reform"

From ALEC Action, "Members of the U.S. Senate: Please Support the FIRST STEP Act (S.3649)"

From John-Michael Seibler & Joe Luppino-Esposito at The Heritage Foundation, "How This Criminal Justice Reform Bill Could Make Our Neighborhoods Safer"

Via local NPR, "Kelley Paul Presses McConnell To Move Criminal Justice Reform Forward"

From Michelle Malkin in the National Review, "It’s Time to Pass the First Step Act: It's pro-cop, pro-borders, and tough on injustice."

From Pastor Paula White-Cain in the Washington Examiner, "Prison reform bill represents what’s beautiful about America"

Relatedly, Senator Charles Grassley has this notable new posting titled "Diverse Group of Organizations Endorse Bipartisan First Step Act" that highlights "a letter to Majority and Minority leaders in both the Senate and House of Representatives, [in which] 42 organizations, including faith-based groups and conservative think tanks, called on Congress to pass the comprehensive criminal justice reform package before the end of the year."

November 22, 2018 at 12:20 PM | Permalink


What a pity that your headline has to give reference to a left or right at all. True, the right or conservative wing have in the past, and may broadly still continue to, claim be be the party of law and order - but of course no-one needs reminding that it was a Democrat President, Bill Clinton, who was largely responsible for the start of mass incarceration. Both left and right have a responsibility to undo the consequent mess - and the continued mismanagement of Sentencing policy by both since.

Posted by: peter | Nov 23, 2018 9:49:52 AM

Of course it's Bill Clinton's fault. What is your evidence for that? Did he enact the ACCA, Career Offender Guidelines, 851s, 924(c), etc?

"The federal prosecutor's responsibility to pursue the most serious readily provable offense has been a bedrock element of DOJ policy for decades. It was first formally announced by Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti (GOP) in 1980 and endorsed by Attorney General Richard Thornburgh (GOP) in 1989.In 1993, Attorney General Janet Reno (DEM) adhered to this policy but added that the charging decision should also be based on "an individualized assessment of the extent to which particular charges fit the specific circumstances of the case, are consistent with the purposes of the federal criminal code, and maximize the impact of federal resources on crime." Ten years later, Attorney General John Ashcroft (GOP) eliminated the "individualized assessment" element of the policy and, further, instructed prosecutors that they "must" (not merely "should", as in the past) charge the most serious readily provable offense.

Posted by: whatever | Nov 23, 2018 3:27:14 PM

There is plenty of blame to go around here, but historically folks on the left have been less inclined to be more punitive --- and thus have been more inclined to advocate and/or support sentencing and prison reform. These matters have been more dynamic in recent decades as Clinton moved the Dems to be more punitive in the 1990s, and more recently the libertarian wing of the GOP has been a significant voice calling for CJ reforms.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 23, 2018 5:36:01 PM

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