drug laws

NAACP Chief: GOP Needs To Become Party of Civil Rights

Ben Jealous

A couple of weeks ago, Senator Rand Paul did a courageous and unusual thing by visiting Howard University in DC. Howard is what is known as a “historically black university,” founded in the wake of the Civil War to provide opportunities for higher education to African-Americans. It’s not exactly home turf for Republicans, but that’s precisely why Paul went, in order to bridge a massive gap that is hurting the GOP.

Response to his visit was mixed, but yesterday, NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous wrote a generally supportive op-ed on CNN. Although noting that Paul missed his target in most areas, there is one area that has promise:

Paul struck out when he tried to equate today’s Republican Party with the party of Abraham Lincoln, while ignoring much of the 150 years in between. (He even acknowledged his mistakes shortly after). But his willingness to step up to the plate can provide a lesson for a GOP struggling to get on top.

Republicans will not win black votes by paying lip service to party history while attacking social programs and voting rights. But they can make inroads by showing a commitment to civil rights, something Paul managed to do briefly in his remarks.

Gun control talk is heating up

Second Amendment

After last week’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, politicians have made loud calls for increased gun control measures, including a reinstatement of the Assault Weapons Ban — nevermind that the .223 Bushmaster rifle used by Adam Lanza wouldn’t have been covered under that law.

Politico notes this morning that President Barack Obama, who has previously called for more gun control measures, has announced that he will form a “guns task force” to presumably look at gun control policies that the White House could pursue. Of course, pro-Second Amendment advocates see this tragedy being politicized by policitians who have long clamored for increased gun control measures.

We’ve hear gun control advocates talk about how these mass shootings are on the rise. Despite the rhetoric, the facts just don’t bear that out. In an article published the day after the shooting at Shady Hook, the Associated Press explained:

“There is no pattern, there is no increase,” says criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston’s Northeastern University, who has been studying the subject since the 1980s, spurred by a rash of mass shootings in post offices.

The random mass shootings that get the most media attention are the rarest, Fox says. Most people who die of bullet wounds knew the identity of their killer.

Drug policy debate should focus on federalism

Ted Cruz

In a speech last month at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) argued that, rather than ignoring certain laws, President Barack Obama should go to Congress to start “a real conversation” about federal drug policy.

“You could have hearings. You could look at the problem. You could discuss commonsense changes that maybe should happen or shouldn’t happen. This president didn’t do that,” said Cruz. “He just said, ‘The laws say one thing’—and mind you, these are criminal laws; these are laws that say if you do X, Y, and Z, you will go to prison. The president announced, ‘No, you won’t.’”

ReasonTV recently chatted with Cruz about the administration’s enforcement of federal drug laws. The firebrand conservative insists that President Obama should enforce federal drug laws, regardless of whether he agrees with them, arguing that ignoring laws passed by Congress sets “a very dangerous precedent.”

“The Obama administration’s approach to drug policy is to simply announce that across the country, it is going to stop enforcing certain drug laws,” Cruz told ReasonTV. “Now, that may or may not be a good policy, but I would suggest that should concern anyone — it should even concern libertarians who support that policy outcome — because the idea that the president simply says criminal laws that are on the books, we’re going to ignore [them]. That is a very dangerous precedent.”

Today in Liberty: Americans believe Obama will fail, final stage set for $1 trillion farm bill

“I have a question, a question for the president: Do you hate all rich people, or just rich people who don’t contribute to your campaign? Do you hate poor people or do you just hate poor people with jobs?” — Ron Paul

— Most Americans believe Obama’s policies will fail: Just 37% of Americans believe that President Obama’s polices will be a success, according to the latest CNN/ORC poll via the Washington Examiner, while 56% say that they will fail. The Examiner notes that those figures “were almost reversed” from last year.

— FreedomWorks to endorse in North Carolina Senate race: The Hill reports that FreedomWorks PAC will endorse Dr. Greg Brannon, a Republican looking to challenge Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), today at a rally in Raleigh. Brannon has already been endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). A Rasmussen poll released last week found Brannon holding a 4-point lead over the vulnerable Democrat. NC House Speaker Thom Tillis leads Hagan by 7 points.

— C’mon and take a free ride: Members of Congress and staffers took some 1,900 privately-sponsored trips in 2013, according to a report from Legistorm. In all, the trips cost $6 million, the most since 2007.

States fight back against Obama Administration policies

Don't Tread On Me

There has been somewhat of a revival of nullification over the last few years as governors and state legislatures have pushed back against some of the policies pushed by the Obama Administration. While some may scoff at the idea of nullification, citing federal supremacy over states, Washington has passed a number of laws that have passed on heavy costs to states or trample into areas that should left to their control.

Politico recently highlighted the pushback from states on various policies being pushed by the Obama Administration — including gun control, ObamaCare, and REAL ID — and whether it’s an viable tool to buck federal mandates:

Infuriated by what they see as the long arm of Washington reaching into their business, states are increasingly telling the feds: Keep out!

Bills that would negate a variety of federal laws have popped up this year in the vast majority of states — with the amount of anti-federal legislation sharply on the rise during the Obama administration, according to experts.
But critics respond that the flood of legislation to override the feds is folly that won’t stand up in court and amounts to a transparent display of the political and personal distaste for President Barack Obama. And in some cases, the moves in the states have provoked an administration counteroffensive: Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Kansas after it passed the Second Amendment Protection Act threatening legal action if necessary to enforce federal laws.

Rand Paul Focuses on Criminal Justice Reform in Speech at Howard University

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) continued to spread his unique conservative message to a broader audience by speaking yesterday at Howard University, a school that Republican politicians typically avoid.

During the speech, Paul focused on minority rights, individual empowerment and the dangers of big government. Paul also highlighted the need for criminal justice reform and the unfairness of nation’s drug laws to Americans from all walks of life.

The focus on criminal justice reform has been gaining steam through the Right on Crime initiative in various state legislatures, including Texas, where reform has saved taxpayers $2 billion. In his speech at CPAC last month, Virginia Attorney Ken Cuccinelli challenged the “tough on crime” approach that conservatives had taken in the past and urged them to lead the way in “changing the culture of corrections in America.”

The approach taken by Paul, who has co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to reform federal mandatory minimums, is intriguing given that his speech was at a historically black college to an audience that has been disproportionately affected by the country’s drug laws.

Rand Paul: Locking People Up for Non-Violent Crimes is a “Mistake”

Rand Paul on

There has been movement from conservatives over the last few years to reform criminal justice laws at the state-level. Thanks to the Right on Crime initiative, many states have pursued these changes as a cost-saving measure.

For example, criminal justice reforms that focus on rehabiliation rather than imprisonment saved taxpayers some $2 billion in prison expansion costs. Additionally, these reforms reduced recidivism rates.

The shift away from “tough on crime” laws gained more traction at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) as Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is running for governor, urged conservatives to “lead the campaign to chang[e] the culture of corrections in America.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who also addressed this issue during his speech at CPAC, spoke more in-depth on the issue during an appearance over the weekend on Fox News Sunday.

When asked by Chris Wallace why he is “more lenient on drug laws,” Paul explained that he isn’t interested in legalization, but rather to stop putting people in jail for long periods of time.

“There are people in jail for 37, 50, 45 years for nonviolent crimes. And that’s a huge mistake,” Paul told Wallace. “Our prisons are full of nonviolent criminals.”

Paul was clear in his personal opposition to the use of marijuana, which he said “takes away your incentive to work and show up and do the things that you should be doing.” But he explained that he didn’t want people to go to jail for making that mistake.

How are athletes voting in 2012?

After being out of town a lot over the last month or so, I finally sat down this weekend to catch up on some much welcome non-political reading. While perusing the October 15th issue of ESPN: The Magazine,  featuring the resurgence of sports in the District of Columbia, I ran across a story on athletes from the United States’ four major sports about their their views on the upcoming presidential election and some of the issues being hotly debated across the country, including gay marriage, abortion, and taxes.

The sample size is small, so it can’t be taken as anything solid, but it’s still interesting for those of us that are both sports and politics junkies.

On who they want to see win the presidential election, athletes are overwhelmingly behind Mitt Romney, with Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Hockey League (NHL) showing the strongest support. Suprisingly, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is also firmly behind Romney. President Obama only gains a plurality in the National Football League (NFL), with many Sunday stars staying undecided.

ESPN presidential survey

Scalia criticizes federal drug laws while Obama ups enforcement

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Friday, Supreme Court Justice Anontin Scalia indicated that federal drug laws have had the unintended consequence of hurting the federal court system:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia criticized the expansion of federal narcotics laws Wednesday, saying that the large number of drug cases has diluted the quality of the federal justice system.

“It was a great mistake to put routine drug offenses into the federal courts,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee at an unusual hearing that brought Justice Scalia and Justice Stephen Breyer to discuss with senators the judiciary’s role in the constitutional system.

Justice Scalia said routine drug cases belong in state courts, which handle the vast majority of trials for most criminal offenses. The Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), himself a former state prosecutor, agreed.

The increase in federal criminal law has required Congress to enlarge the federal court system, and Justice Scalia suggested that has helped diminish the “elite” quality of the federal judiciary.

Scalia is right (he was also right with his comments on divided government during the same hearing), of course, but this pragmatic point-of-view rings hollow given that the Reagan-appointed justice is partially responsible for continuing federal drug law when he cast voted with the majority in Gonzales v. Raich, a 2005 case where the federal government successfully argued that Congress can regulate homegrown marijuana through the Commerce Clause.

Pat Robertson calls for drug law reform

While his spokepeople are trying to walk back his comments, Pat Robertson, a well-known televangelist, recently called for decriminalization of marijuana (emphasis mine):

Calling it getting “smart” on crime, Robertson aired a clip on a recent episode of his 700 Club television show that advocated the viewpoint of drug law reformers who run prison outreach ministries.

A narrator even claimed that religious prison outreach has “saved” millions in public funds by helping to reduce the number of prisoners who return shortly after being released.

“It got to be a big deal in campaigns: ‘He’s tough on crime,’ and ‘lock ‘em up!’” the Christian Coalition founder said. “That’s the way these guys ran and, uh, they got elected. But, that wasn’t the answer.”

His co-host added that the success of religious-run dormitories for drug and alcohol cessation therapy present an “opportunity” for faith-based communities to lead the way on drug law reforms.

“We’re locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know they’ve got 10 years with mandatory sentences,” Robertson continued. “These judges just say, they throw up their hands and say nothing we can do with these mandatory sentences. We’ve got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes and that’s one of ‘em.

“I’m … I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing it’s just, it’s costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals. That’s not a good thing.”

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