Superpredators and the 1994 Crime Bill

Hillary Clinton did not write the 1994 Crime Bill, officially titled the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, H.R. 3355, Pub.L. 103322. She wasn't in the Senate when it passed. She did not coin the phrase juvenile "superpredator." The attention being given to an activist criticizing her remarks in 1996 is, as usual, overblown.

"Superpredators" was an idea created by Former Bush Drug Czars William Bennett and John Walters, along with former Princeton professor and Bush advisor, John J. DiIulio Jr., in a book titled "Body Count" (Simon & Schuster, 1996). It was widely repudiated by almost everyone shortly thereafter, but not shortly enough to avoid affecting the Democrats' crime agenda in Congress.

Ted Kennedy twice referred to the discredited term during remarks to Congress in 2004, once when advocating for the assault weapons ban and once when advocating for the Democratic version of an anti-gang bill (over its Republican rival, S. 1735, the Gang Prevention and Effective Deterrence Act.) On the assault weapons ban: [More...]

In fact, the ban contributed to a dramatic decrease in violent crime in the 1990s. Many of us remember the dire "juvenile superpredator" predictions that were in vogue before that reduction took place. In 1996, William Bennett and John Walters had written that America was a "ticking crime bomb," faced with the "youngest, biggest, and baddest generation" of juvenile offenders that our country had ever known. Fortunately, these predictions were wrong. From 1993 to 2001, arrest rates for violent juvenile crime declined by more than two-thirds.

On the anti-gang bill:

Many of us remember the dire "juvenile superpredator" predictions that were common before that reduction took place. In 1996, William Bennett and John Walters wrote that America was a "ticking crime bomb" faced with the "youngest, biggest, and baddest generation" of juvenile offenders that our country had ever known. Fortunately, these predictions were wrong. From 1993 to 2001, arrest rates for violent juvenile crime fell by more than two-thirds. We're still reaping the benefits of this lower crime rate today.

Bush aide John J. DiIulio Jr later came to regret being responsible for the theory:

From his perch as the director of the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which he believes will help uplift many needy people but particularly the most troubled teenagers, John J. DiIulio Jr. conceded today that he wished he had never become the 1990's intellectual pillar for putting violent juveniles in prison and condemning them as "superpredator".

DeIulio testified before Congress on his absurd theory.

Only 2 Democratic Senators voted against the 1994 Crime Bill: Russ Feingold (WI)and Paul Simon (IL). Only 2 Republican Senators voted against the bill. Bernie Sanders voted for it -- twice. (He voted for the House-Senate Conference Report on August 21, 1994, and then again for the final bill.

The 1994 crime bill was a disaster. The architect was Joe Biden. The bill that passed was essentially a rewrite of his S. 1607, the text of which was inserted into a House bill, H.R. 3355. H.R. 3355 passed and became law.

There's never been any stopping Joe Biden, our country's one-man crime band. He is responsible for most of the horrible crime legislation in this country over the past 25 years.

(Biden's bill S. 1607 was actually a rewrite of his earlier version, S.618 - Violent Crime Control Act of 1991. There was also a 1993 version.)

What to keep in mind: The Republican version of a crime bill in 1995 was even worse. It was called the "Take Back Our Streets Act" which was part of Newt Gingrich's Contract on America (he called it "Contract With America.")

Criminal defense lawyers lobbied long and hard against Gingrich's bill, with success. We used to think of it as the "Korematsu, McCarthy, and Star Chamber Renewal Act."

As for Bernie Sanders, in 1995, the year after he voted for the 1994 Crime bill, he introduced something called The Progressive Promise (text version here). It was a list of ten bills, meant to counter Gingrich's Contract on America, one of which pertained to crime. Rather than disavow the 1994 crime bill he voted for, Sanders reaffirmed support for it when describing it to Congress:

The second bill in the Progressive Promise is The Equal Justice Before the Law Act, which is an anticrime package that retains key aspects of the anticrime legislation enacted in 1994 to prevent crime as well as punish that which happens; to crack down on white-collar crime -- for example, S bailout, defrauding Federal Government on procurement, criminal penalties for willful violation of child labor laws by employers that result in serious bodily injury or death of minors in the workplace, eliminate deductibility of legal expenses when a company is accused of a crime -- and on drug trafficking and abuse. (my emphasis.)

The Dems were bad in those years, not just on crime but on wiretapping and civil liberties. But don't kid yourselves that Republicans have changed or are any better. They don't care about the rights of the accused or convicted, only the amount of money it costs to imprison them.

As for Bennett and Walters, they remain fixated on their "bring back the war on drugs" platform. Thankfully, neither Hillary nor Sanders are likely to listen to them. I can't say the same for Trump, Cruz or Rubio.

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  • Display: Sort:
    I don't even (3.00 / 2) (#1)
    by Ga6thDem on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 05:18:18 PM EST
    know why Bernie has been discussing this. Does he not remember voting for it or something?

    There's no crime... (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 05:33:50 PM EST
    in making honest mistakes...I just wish all Dems were interested in fixing them.  Hillary Clinton's Senate record is no prize on criminal justice either.

    Let's hope Sanders and Clinton are serious about substantial reforms. The tide has definitely turned our way, sh:t even a select few Republicans are coming around.

    Though the wheels of criminal justice reform make the wheels of justice look like a Hot Rod.

    I think (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by Ga6thDem on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 05:41:52 PM EST
    Jeralyn's point is that it wasn't an honest mistake on Bernie's part. He fully supported the bill and when given the chance back then when he did his own bill he didn't do anything to change what was already in place.

    Look there was a lot of support for this kind of bill back then and his constituents in Vermont probably supported him voting for it. Put in the time and place like everything else should be.


    You might want to give a listen (5.00 / 4) (#4)
    by caseyOR on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 05:45:35 PM EST
    to Hillary's campaign speeches and read up on her policy proposals.  She sure seems to be serious about criminal justice reform, gun control and eradicating racism.

    My quarrel with Bernie and his supporters, including Ben Jealous and you, is that they are delighted to gut Hillary for things she said, like in a speech, and actions that Bill took, but when Bernie's record of his actual votes, like his votes for the crime bill, then suddenly it is not such a bad thing.

    Your comment seems to me to say that Bernie's votes were an honest mistake, but your comments about Clinton on another thread appear to condemn her for a speech, not a vote, not an action that made a bit of difference, but a speech.

    How is this not a double standard?


    It is (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by Ga6thDem on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 05:54:47 PM EST
    a double standard and it's tiresome.

    I am critical... (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 06:04:23 PM EST
    of Bernies record on CJ. Amongst other issues.

    Hillary's proposals and rhetoric now sound great...her Senate votes are mixed at best. She voted to double down on the COPS initiative as recently as 2007, along with Bernie.

    No double standard...they both fall short on record, score well on current rhetoric. Criminal Justice draw imo.

    I admit my Cinton bias freely, and will try to keep it in check and be more open minded. At this rate I might be voting for Jill Stein even if by some miracle Bernie is the nom. Especially if he uses that DNC Wall St money!


    Her Senate votes (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by jbindc on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 06:20:09 PM EST
    Made her one of the most liberal Senators in Congress. She was Elizabeth Warren before Elizabeth Warren was a Senator.

    We've gotten this raft of "Clinton is liberal" exposés as Clinton has revved up her 2016 campaign, speaking out in support of gay marriage, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, and criminal justice reform. But what many of these articles miss is that Clinton has always been, by most measures, pretty far to the left. When she's shifted positions, it has been in concert with the entire Democratic Party.

    To see how these different issues fit together to form an overall political ideology, we usually use three metrics: one based on congressional voting record, one based on public statements and one based on fundraising.

    Clinton was one of the most liberal members during her time in the Senate. According to an analysis of roll call votes by Voteview, Clinton's record was more liberal than 70 percent of Democrats in her final term in the Senate. She was more liberal than 85 percent of all members. Her 2008 rival in the Democratic presidential primary, Barack Obama, was nearby with a record more liberal than 82 percent of all members -- he was not more liberal than Clinton.

    Clinton also has a history of very liberal public statements. Clinton rates as a "hard core liberal" per the OnTheIssues.org scale. She is as liberal as Elizabeth Warren and barely more moderate than Bernie Sanders. And while Obama is also a "hard core liberal," Clinton again was rated as more liberal than Obama.

    So can we stop with this meme too?


    I am So Confused... (none / 0) (#13)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Feb 26, 2016 at 01:47:29 PM EST
    ... you spent weeks bashing liberals, but now liberals records are good ?  I mean seriously.

    What are you TALKING about? (none / 0) (#14)
    by jbindc on Fri Feb 26, 2016 at 01:58:57 PM EST
    I agree with lots of liberal positions.  Some (especially posited by those very liberal people) I disagree with.

    There are those who want to whine that Hillary isn't a libetal, and oh, if we could just have someone liberal like Elizabeth Warren.   I was merely pointing out that Hillary IS as liberal as Elizabeth Warren and has been a liberal for a long time.

    So, sorry if you can't understand facts against incorrect memes.

    Seriously is right.


    Really (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by FlJoe on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 06:08:00 PM EST
    a bad vote by Bernie is an "honest mistake" but Hillary must wear her AUMF vote around her neck forever.

    Well that AUMF... (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by kdog on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 06:16:02 PM EST
    was a pretty particularly big blunder, and to HRC's credit she acknowledges it.

    Bernie should totally acknowledge his blunder as well, and he has not, not to my satisfaction anyway.


    You (5.00 / 5) (#10)
    by FlJoe on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 06:43:30 PM EST
    were right the first time the were both honest mistakes, not major blunders. Standing in their shoes, in those times, they both had compelling reasons for their votes, not the least of which are the wishes of your constituents.

    I am sure that Bernie didn't vote for the crime intending to explode the incarceration rate and other abuses it engendered, just as I am sure Hillary didn't vote for the AUMF expecting Bush's folly to ensue.

    It's funny how words define bias, always a mistake for Bernie but a blunder for Hillary. It is constant drumbeat against her, from the right, from the left and of course the media, at least you raised Bernie's transgression to a blunder so I give you credit there.


    It's also funny... (none / 0) (#11)
    by kdog on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 07:16:47 PM EST
    how everyone assumed my comment "It's no crime to make an honest mistake.." only applied to Bernie.

    It didn't.


    I did think your comment (none / 0) (#15)
    by caseyOR on Fri Feb 26, 2016 at 02:12:22 PM EST
    only applied to Bernie. Thank you for correcting that mistake on my part.

    Bill wanted limitations, but needed the center (none / 0) (#12)
    by vicndabx on Thu Feb 25, 2016 at 07:52:55 PM EST
    LA Times

    President Clinton called on Congress Tuesday to trim back the so-called three-strikes-and-you're-out provisions of its pending crime bill, saying that life imprisonment for repeat offenders should be reserved for those whose crimes "threaten other people's lives."

    crime bill (none / 0) (#16)
    by mhayden900 on Wed Apr 13, 2016 at 02:44:07 PM EST
    Geez, this is what I've heard here in the past about a false equivalency.
    You can't act like the Crime Bill's only provisions were about increased sentences. It was a large bill, including the assault weapons ban, violence against women provision, grants for additional police and prosecutors, etc, etc.
    As is typical, there was everything including the kitchen sink thrown in there.
    During consideration of the bill, Sanders voted six times to weaken or eliminate the death penalty provisions and voted separately against creating new mandatory minimums. Then-First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke strongly in favor of increased incarceration, labeling at risk youth as "super-predators" who had to be "brought to heel."
    You can't always vote on the bill you want and it is a balancing act.
    Here is what Sanders said at that time: https:
    And the Secretary: https: