Comparing Hillary and Obama on Crime Issues
The San Francisco Chronicle has an article today by Bob Egelko comparing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on crime issues.
Shorter version: They are pretty similar and not particularly liberal (certainly not as much as I would like them to be.)
There are some things I take issue with. For more on Obama's record on crime and defendants' rights, see my earlier analysis here.
It's true, as the article says, that while both support the death penalty, Obama worked to revise it in Illinois to prevent wrongful convictions and Hillary was an early and consistent supporter in Congress of the Innocence Protection Act.
But neither one opposes the death penalty for the guilty. Obama, for example, supported legislation in Illinois to increase crimes eligible for the death penalty -- specifically for those convicted of brutal murders of the elderly and mentally disabled. (Chicago Tribune, May 2, 2001, available on Lexis.com) He also supports it for heinous crimes.
In 2004, for the first time since the 1980's, the Dems, at the insistence of John Kerry, dropped the death penalty from their platform. Will Obama or Hillary pledge to keep it out? I doubt it.
On mandatory minimums, the article implies Obama is opposed to them while Hillary is not.
The two differ on crime-related issues that have a lower profile but affect many thousands of prisoners, most of them minorities - the disparity between sentences for offenses involving crack and powder cocaine, and the merits of federal mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. On both, Clinton lines up with the prosecution, Obama with the defense.
While it accurately notes that Obama has tempered his opposition recently by merely calling for a review of mandatory minimums, he's also said his opposition applies to non-violent offenses. And he has doubts about spending political capital to change them.
He said that if he were to become president, he would support a commission to issue a report "that allows me to say that based on the expert evidence, this is not working and it's unfair and unjust. Then I would move legislation forward."
"Even if we fix this, if it was a 1-to-1 ratio, it's still a problem that folks are selling crack. It's still a problem that our young men are in a situation where they believe the only recourse for them is the drug trade. So there is a balancing act that has to be done in terms of, do we want to spend all our political capital on a very difficult issue that doesn't get at some of the underlying issues; whether we want to spend more of that political capital getting early childhood education in place, getting after-school programs in place, getting summer school programs in place."
As to Hillary lining up with the prosecution on mandatory minimums, that's wrong. Here is a recent example:
Hillary at the third debate at Howard University:
we have to do all of these things. Number one, we do have to go after racial profiling. I’ve supported legislation to try to tackle that.
Number two, we have to go after mandatory minimums. You know, mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate, but it has been too widely used. And it is using now a discriminatory impact.
Three, we need diversion, like drug courts. Non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons. They need to be diverted from our prison system. (Applause.)
We need to make sure that we do deal with the distinction between crack and powder cocaine. And ultimately we need an attorney general and a system of justice that truly does treat people equally, and that has not happened under this administration.
Obama was also a prime co-sponsor of the meth bill that passed Congress and supported bills with greater restrictions on sex offenders. While in the Illinois legislature, he either voted for or present (I can't tell which) on a law with increased penalties and mandatory minimums for ecstasy in Illinois. (Copley News Service May 10, 2001.)In his own words, (Chicago Tribune, October 8, 2004):
"I voted for, or co-sponsored myself, over 100 bills that strengthened criminal penalties for everything ranging from sex offenders to drug dealers to domestic violence abusers," he said. "It would be very hard to argue, if you look at the totality of my record, that I somehow have been soft on crime. ... Those who have tried to paint me recently as being too liberal are some of the colleagues I worked most closely with. They never held that view until election season."
Obama also said last year he would create a new DEA office in New Orleans:
If elected, Mr. Obama said he would establish a Drug Enforcement Agency office in New Orleans that would be dedicated to stopping drug gangs across the region.
The two crime policy areas in which Obama is more progressive than Hillary are (1) anti-gang bills and (2) retroactivity of the recent crack-powder sentencing guideline reductions. Hillary was one of 44 Democrats who voted for the anti-gang bill while Obama voted against it. And on the retroactivity question, Obama supported it while Hillary said,
“In principle I have problems with retroactivity," she said. "It’s something a lot of communities will be concerned about as well."
To say Obama is more progressive on crime issues or that he takes the defense line while Hillary toes the prosecution line, is not accurate. Neither one is particularly progressive or defense oriented. Their minor differences are just that, minor.
- 1/7/08: Obama and Defendants' Rights: Progressive Or Not?
- 12/14/07: The Democratic Candidates Discuss Their Crime Agendas
- 12/3/07: Hillary Comes Out Against Crack-Powder Retroactivity (includes Obama's views)
- 11/25/07: Obama and Medical Pot: More Research Needed
- 11/12/07: Obama Touts His Death Penalty Reform Role (Also see this comment to the post)
- O8/28/07: Obama Wants to Strengthen Drug War in New Orleans
- 8/15/07: Obama Wavers on Crack-Powder Sentencing (includes his position on death penalty)
- 7/1/07: Dems Debate Sentencing Reforms and Mandatory Minimums
|< Time Magazine Hillary Photo | Pentagon to Seek Death Penalty for Six at Guantanamo >|