Few issues have the power to both unite and divide like criminal justice. Progressive reform efforts — including the 2018 First Step Act — have created unlikely (if temporary) political alliances across the ideological spectrum from President Donald Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Kim Kardashian West. Yet criminal justice has become one of the most hotly contested issues among 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, driving sharp wedges between leading contenders. Look for criminal justice to emerge as a defining issue at this week’s debates, throughout the Democratic primaries and, ultimately, in the general election.
Much of the fire has been aimed at current Democratic frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden, who — as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee — was a driving force behind the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The bill, which Democrats advanced to combat the “soft on crime” label, created a federal “three strikes” law requiring mandatory life imprisonment for certain offenders, provided billions of dollars in federal funding to hire police officers and build prisons, financially incentivized states to require inmates to serve higher proportions of their sentences, and expanded the federal death penalty.
To read more of Elie Honig’s op-ed, click here.
Elie Honig is a CNN legal analyst and former federal and state prosecutor. Follow him on Twitter: @eliehonig.