Senate Republicans Block Criminal Justice Reform Commission

Senate Republicans Block Criminal Justice Reform Commission October 25, 2011

Leave it to the Republicans in the Senate to block a bill that virtually no one could be opposed to — and to invent patently absurd reasons for doing so. James Webb’s bill, which would create a commission to make recommendations on how to reform our criminal justice system, failed to get cloture when 43 Republicans voted against it.

The measure calls for creating a 14-member bipartisan commission with a $5 million budget to examine all levels of the justice system – federal, state and local. It is intended to lead to recommendations on how to change laws, enforcement practices and prison operations to make the justice system fairer and more cost-effective. The panel would have to complete its work in 18 months.

Two Republican senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, spoke against the amendment, saying that allowing a federal commission to examine state and local criminal justice systems would encroach on states’ rights and that the commission’s $5 million budget should be used for other purposes.

Hutchison said studying the federal system is within Congress’ powers but including state and local justice systems “is an overreach of gigantic proportions.”

“We are absolutely ignoring the Constitution if we do this,” Coburn said.

A majority of senators supported Webb’s amendment, 57-43, but it fell three votes short of the 60 needed to be added to a spending bill.

Webb blamed Republicans for blocking the legislation and vowed after the vote to keep pressing for the commission.

“Their inflammatory arguments defy reasonable explanation and were contradicted by the plain language of our legislation,” Webb said in a prepared statement. “To suggest, for example, that the nonbinding recommendations of a bipartisan commission threaten the Constitution is absurd.”

Yes, it certainly is. Four Republicans voted for cloture along with all the Democrats. Balko’s reaction is spot on:

This is some pretty blatantly selective fidelity to the Constitution. The drug war is as direct and aggressive an assault on federalism and the power of states and localities to make their own criminal justice policy as anything else the federal government does. Yet Hutchison, Coburn and the rest of the GOP senators who killed the Webb bill all support it. They also support all sorts of federal grants to local police departments. They all support letting the Pentagon give military equipment to local police departments.

Along comes a bill that would create a committee to make some non-binding suggestions that, if followed, may make it less likely that someone will be wrongfully imprisoned, or beaten by cops, or otherwise get screwed over by the criminal justice system, and suddenly all of these GOP senators get a case of the constitutional vapors.

That’s because they’re lying. Their argument is merely a pretense. The real reason they object to the bill is because it might actually protect the rights of accused criminals — that is, innocent people who are falsely accused — more than the current system. And it might reveal the many flaws in the system that exist now.

"only "Genuine Artificial Imitation Ovalkwik"with inert ultra-tensile carbon!"

Crokin Weaves the Epstein Arrest Into ..."
"That sounds like the brilliant conspiracy when the Communists (or One-Worlders, or Illuminati, or whoever) ..."

Crokin Weaves the Epstein Arrest Into ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Shawn Smith

    … may make it less likely that someone will be wrongfully imprisoned, or beaten by cops, or otherwise get screwed over by the criminal justice system, and suddenly all of these GOP senators get a case of the constitutional vapors.

    But that’s the most important thing about the criminal “justice” system. If the wrong kinds of people (the ones with more melanin and/or less money) aren’t scared that they’ll go to prison on any given day, they might actually start improving their lives, and taking some money from that single, non-growing pie. That would mean less money for the people who actually matter (those with lots of money). Who wants that?

    /sarcasm

  • Woof

    Those assclowns make me stabby

  • Michael Heath

    If I were big city or regional ‘paper of record’ or similar media outlet I would seek collaboration with my state peers to demand adequate access to elected officials relevant to my service area. The objective of that collaboration would be to effectively force the relevant elected officials to periodically subject themselves to interviews voluminously enough to adequately scrutinize the rationales politicians give for their behavior. A type of press conference format that one which is regularly scheduled which are administrated with more formal formats to insure adequate coverage and sufficient scrutiny.

    We are all cognizant that there is a tension between getting access and negative reporting that suppresses access. But that occurs when individual reporters or their entity attempt to secure access independently without utilizing the leverage of the relevant portion of their industry. This suppression of access unless you softball questions can be mitigated by collaborating with one’s relevant peers and competitors in a way that insures the only way politicians get access is by going through a sufficient gauntlet of credible questions measured against the entire relevant portion of the media.

    Lots of industries have competitors collaborating to set standards and practices which ultimately benefit the consumer and themselves. My recommendation seems both obvious and easy to implement. In fact the only challenge I perceive besides will is that so few editors and journalists are currently capable of practicing to the higher standards authentic scrutiny requires. However, implementing such an approach would make it far easier for media outlets to improve their journalists’ performance, so there’s a benefit there. The obvious one is far more interesting stories as politicians stick their foot up their own ass even further than they do now.

    [I reject the notion that journalism purposefully and consciously serves corporate masters which universally and preemptively prohibits the approach I propose here. While there are instances of such suppression, e.g., NBC not reporting on how GE pollutes, and some systemic defects (nearly all of them are scared to reveal conservative Christians’ defining behaviors and the reasons why they behave the way they do), there’s also ample independent media outlets which have no such pressure. In fact such suppression creates easily exploited market opportunities by those under no such pressure if those run by conglomerates became overly suppressive.]

  • tomh

    Scientologists will be disappointed – in 2010, the Church of Scientology spent $110,000 lobbying in favor of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act.

  • wpjoe

    Is there a corporate money involved here, i.e., did the GOP senators vote against it because it might uncover bad practices of the companies that run prisons?

  • harold

    I don’t agree with James Webb on everything, obviously (he’s a rather conservative Democrat).

    But I am incredibly appreciative of his actions here. It’s too bad he’s retiring in 2012.

    The US has by far the world’s highest incarceration rate. We also have some of the worst prison conditions in the developed world. We have also, over the last few decades, ordered our society so that ex-convicts can be more or less permanently locked out of the mainstream.

    A major factor creating support for this situation is racism. However, although the situation would be outrageous even if it were affecting only African-Americans, that isn’t the case. A combination of massive incarceration rate and brutal prison conditions can impact on everyone.

    For the record, I repeat that, although I oppose executions and support rehabilitation where that is realistic, I am not “soft on crime”; in fact, I tend to think that non-homicide violent crimes and fraud are often under-punished.

    One very worrisome sign of a failed state is a harsh justice system, coexisting with a situation in which actual harmful crime is rampant and relatively unpunished, while marijuana smokers and the like are brutalized. We are rapidly getting there.

  • So currently we imprison a disproportionately large percentage of the population and it’s a budgetary drain everywhere, while the positive feedback loop of “tough on crime” legislation creating and jailing criminals shows no signs of ever relenting. We violate the constitution all in the name of fighting drug use, even though the effort is a proven failure. All this, and Republicans oppose efforts to look into it? When they spout rhetoric about limited-government, I believe them like I believe the “democratic” in “Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.”

    My relative (cousin, once removed) Jim Webb is more of a conservative than those nit-wits will ever be. He discussed the bill with many different groups to get their support before putting this forward, making sure there’s nothing in it that a reasonable person could object to. Oh, but if only he only had to deal with reasonable people.

    If there’s one thing we can do at the state level to topple the tough on crime juggernaut, it’s allowing prisoners to vote, though you don’t exactly win popularity points for such a position.

  • The real reason they object to the bill is because it might actually protect the rights of accused criminals — that is, innocent people who are falsely accused — more than the current system.

    I wouldn’t rule out knee-jerk obstructionism. The Republican order of the day is to render the Senate as incapable of governing as possible.

  • Aquaria

    The real reason they object to the bill is because it might actually protect the rights of accused criminals — that is, innocent people who are falsely accused — more than the current system. And it might reveal the many flaws in the system that exist now.

    Nope, the real reason they oppose it is because criminals are their favorite bugaboos to cadge votes, especially racist votes, and then they make economic hay when their rich friends have more people to keep in their private prisons. Doesn’t matter if the people in the jails belong there or not, if they’re guilty or not. Keep those prisons packed so the rich can keep getting richer–and worse, richer off human misery.

  • eric

    Area man: I wouldn’t rule out knee-jerk obstructionism.

    This is a good point. Jesus himself could descend in a cloud, offering to cure the country of its ills, and if a democratic senator proposed accepting his help in a bill, the republicans would kill the bill for no other reason than a democrat proposed it.

  • “…examine all levels of the justice system … lead to recommendations on how to change laws, enforcement practices and prison operations to make the justice system fairer and more cost-effective.”

    So they’re going to study and make recommendations concerning the criminal justice system. There are not many people in America that believe that the system works very well, on either side of the political spectrum, so this sounds like a good thing. Or at the very least, neutral.

    “We are absolutely ignoring the Constitution if we do this,” Coburn said.

    Wait. Studying and recommending is now unconstitutional? Who knew?

    The bigger picture here is that the Republicans’ sole reason for existence is to deny the Democrats the Presidency in 2012, as short-sighted and ignoble that may be. Point to him and claim that his administration hasn’t done anything is part of the means to reach that goal. Damn the constituents, damn the state of the country, damn reality. Just get Obama the fuck out of Dodge.

    That’s what this is all about.

  • Aquaria

    I reject the notion that journalism purposefully and consciously serves corporate masters which universally and preemptively prohibits the approach I propose

    You must be joking.

    First of all, who can own a media outlet except rich people? And do you think they want their own subsidiaries dissing them? Of course not. So some stories are ignored…while others are given more attention than they deserve, depending on how the corporate owner feels about something.

    Why do you think LIBERALS raised such a stink about corporations buying out our TV stations back in the 70s and 80s, huh? Why did you think they were complaining about Gannett? Did you think they were doing it just to be complaining about something?

    You also seem to think that media exists to tell you the news, when they exist to give you something like news while they sell advertising. JYou knew that–right?

    Now ask yourself: If you were, say, GE, would you advertise with a media outlet that constantly looked into your environmental record and found violations all the time? You know GE wouldn’t. They’d give their advertising to a competitor, which of course they have the right to do. But then the competitor can acquire better TV shows or commentators, which puts more eyeballs on the ads, which makes GE buy more ads, and so on.

    Meanwhile, the originally hard-hitting outlet doesn’t have those deep pockets of GE. They can’t afford as good of features, like cool syndicated shows or trenchant pundits, and people stop going to that media outlet.

    But who has the money to advertise on TV or in newspapers but organizations with money? You know…corporations!

    So the hard-hitting outlet either sticks to their guns and has to pray that somebody with $$$$$ appreciates what they’re doing, else they can’t stay in business and someone will snap up the station. Someone more…cooperative. Or the outlet lightens up and get the advertising dollars.

    The latter is the easier path, and that’s what our media does now–take the easy path.

    This is how media works in the current American environment.