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No Dice on Federal Pot Legalization

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The prospects that federal law will be changed to legalize marijuana took a huge step back yesterday when AG nominee Loretta Lynch said that she does not support legalization.  The NPR report states:

During her first day of confirmation hearings for attorney general, nominee Loretta Lynch gave answers that seemed in line with President Obama. But then she was asked about marijuana, and whether she supports legalizing it.

"Senator, I do not," Lynch told Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., when he asked whether she supports making pot legal.

And that is that, for the foreseeable future.  The betting is that Lynch will be confirmed as Attorney General, and if Obama's AG does not support federal legalization, it isn't going to happen during this administration, period.  It got nowhere in the last Congress, which was more liberal than the current one, and Ms. Lynch's position is visibly more hostile to pot than Eric Holder's has been.

Still, I should add three things.  First, this is a point in Ms. Lynch's favor as far as I'm concerned.  Second, I expect that, if Ms. Lynch becomes AG, pot enforcement will remain a relatively low priority, which it has been for years (other drugs being even more hazardous).  Third, as ever, CJLF takes no position on pot legalization. 

Getting Real on the AG Nomination

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Bill linked yesterday to the live-blogging at Powerline on the nomination hearings for Loretta Lynch as Attorney General.  To watch video yourself, cruise on over to C-SPAN.  At the WSJ, Andrew Grossman and Devlin Barrett have this article on the "relatively tame" hearing.  Also at Powerline, John Hinderaker has this apoplectic post titled Loretta Lynch Must Not Be Confirmed, focusing on immigration.

A note to my fellow conservatives:  Get a grip and get real.

Elections have consequences.  We live in a country where a majority of the voters chose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney.  We may consider that choice profoundly stupid, but that's democracy -- the worst form of government except for all the others.

If Loretta Lynch is not Attorney General, who do you think will be?  Somebody better?  Get real.  We want the best AG we can get, and as long as Barack Obama is President, "best" means the best from among the subset of people he might choose.  Call that "least bad" if you like, but that's where we are.

The Constitution vests all executive authority in the President.  Everyone else in the branch works for him.  He is going to nominate people who agree with him on policy, and that's how it works from now until January 20, 2017.  Judicial nominations are different.  For executive officers, the Senate pretty much lets the President appoint who he wants, and it has been that way for both parties.

If Ms. Lynch is not confirmed, as Mr. Hinderaker demands, who will be Attorney General?  Eric Holder will stay on until the next nominee is confirmed.  The next nominee will not be any less aligned with the Obama/Holder policies than the present one.  So the chances of having someone better as AG would be slim in the long run and absolute zero in the short run.

The WSJ article says, "Several Republicans suggested that simply by not being Mr. Holder, Ms. Lynch's chances of confirmation were improved."

Roger that.

AG Nomination Hearing

My friend Paul Mirengoff at Powerline is live-blogging the confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch.  He did the morning session here and the afternoon one here.

My favorite exchange thus far was between Ms. Lynch and Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. As Paul recounts:

Lynch assure Flake that her commitment to securing the border is firm. We can all sleep better at night now.

Flake is pressing Lynch about failure to carry through on an effective border control program in Yuma, Arizona ("Operation Streamline"). Is she committed to the program? Lynch says she's committed to talking with Flake about his concerns.

Hey, that's cool.  The prospective AG isn't all that committed to enforcing the border, but is committed to talking about enforcing it. Is the law in good hands here?  This must be a takeoff on her boss's waffling on whether he'll use force to stop the Iranians from building the Big One, but is happy to talk about stopping the Iranians from building it.

Apparently, that's how the hearing is going.  Senators ask questions.  Ms. Lynch responds with friendly filibustering and mush. This gets accepted as "answers," and nobody becomes perturbed.

Fact Checking Obama on Crime and Incarceration

President Obama said in his State of the Union address:

Surely we can agree it's a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America's criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.

Only one problem:  If the President is talking about 2013, which he certainly seems to be (as 2014 statistics on crime and incarceration rates are not yet available), his point is misleading.  The crime rate did indeed fall in 2013 (for the first time in three years), but incarceration increased.  As Obama's own Justice Department reported four months ago:

  • U.S. state and federal correctional facilities held an estimated 1,574,700 prisoners on December 31, 2013, an increase of 4,300 prisoners from year end 2012.

  • The 3-year decline in the prison population stopped in 2013 due to an increase of 6,300 inmates (0.5%) in the state prison population.

  • The federal prison population decreased in size for the first time since 1980, with 1,900 fewer prisoners in 2013 than in 2012.

  • The number of prisoners sentenced to more than a year in state or federal prison increased by 5,400 persons from year end 2012 to year end 2013.

  • The number of persons admitted to state or federal prison during 2013 increased by 4%, from 608,400 in 2012 to 631,200 in 2013.
For the last eight years, and until just a few days ago, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, an extremely powerful position.  In this piece from the Marshall Project, Sen. Leahy tells us what the President should say tonight about criminal justice reform:

The biggest issue facing our justice system today is our mass incarceration problem. The president has said before that we should enact laws that ensure "our crime policy is not only tough, but also smart."  But tonight, while he has the attention of every member of Congress and the American people, I want to hear the president say that he supports an end to all mandatory minimum sentences, as I do.  Mandatory minimums are costly, unfair, and do not make our country safer.  For too long they have served as an easy way to score cheap political points: Want to prove you're tough on crime? Just add another mandatory minimum to the law. No need to bother with evidence that they do not make us safer; they make a nice talking point. That policy fallacy is one of the reasons we have the largest prison population in the world. And why $7 billion - nearly a third of the Justice Department's budget - goes to the Bureau of Prisons instead of to community policing, victims services, or prison diversion programs that would make us safer and save taxpayers money.

I have made my position clear on mandatory minimums  --  they are a needed restraint on foolish and ideological judges. Congress was wise to pass them and wise to keep them.

Thus I wish to note here only that Sen. Leahy, for all his present indignation, did not so much as bring up for a vote, in the years he easily could have, legislation (the Justice Safety Valve Act) he co-sponsored, which would have done exactly what he says the political branches have been so remiss for failing to do.

P.S.  Sen. Leahy to the contrary, the biggest issue facing our justice system today is that we have almost 10,000,000 serious crimes a year, not counting trafficking in hard drugs.  That is well over four times the number of inmates.

(Hat tip to Doug Berman at SL&P).

The Writing Not on the Wall

There has been a good deal of speculation that the new Congress will be more hospitable to sentencing "reform"  --  i.e. lower sentences for federal felons  --  than the last one, in which the Justice Safety Valve Act (effectively abolishing mandatory minimum sentences) never even got a committee vote, and the Smarter Sentencing Act (slashing mandatory minimum drug sentences) passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee but then sank out of sight.

Part of the optimism takes root in the fact that three prominent Senate Republicans  --  Rand Paul. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee  -- voted with all ten Democrats then on the Committee in favor of the SSA.  The thinking from SSA advocates is that these libertarian-leaning members of the newly strengthened Republican presence will now lead the Party to a "more enlightened" view.

I thus thought the Heritage Foundation's recent announcement of its "2015 Conservative Policy Summit" contained a telling omission. Heritage vocally supported (and, so far as I know, still supports) the SSA, and its gathering will be headlined by all three Republican Senators (plus newly elected Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas) who supported sentencing "reform" in the last Congress. Yet the Summit's agenda contains no mention of this topic among the ten listed.

To me, this is the handwriting not on the wall.  I was already reasonably sure that the SSA  --  essentially a Democratic creation despite its support by a sliver of the Republican membership in Congress  --  was even deader this time around than it was last time, despite its supposedly "unstoppable momentum." The fact that the pro-SSA Heritage Foundation lined up every one of the Republican senators on the SJC who supported this bill, and still did not put it on a ten-item agenda, is an omission that speaks volumes.

Bye, Bye Boxer

With all the grim stuff we have to talk about here, I am pleased to announce some very good news.  California Senator Barbara Boxer will not be running for reelection in 2016.  With an open seat instead of challenging an incumbent, the race will be more competitive.  If next year sees a Republican winning the White House, as the usual cycle indicates, maybe some coattails can help flip this seat.

Kevin Freking has this story for AP.  It's mostly the usual fluff you would expect, but there is this:

Boxer had a way of riling conservatives. She can be abrupt with those who question or disagree with her, and some of the exchanges she has had with witnesses at committee hearings over the years cemented her reputation as a firebrand.

In 2009, she brusquely requested that a brigadier general in the Army Corps of Engineers call her senator instead of ma'am. The confrontation served as fundraising fodder for her election opponents the following year, but she still won handily.

"Firebrand" is not the word I would use, but our standards preclude use of the most accurate term.

There are many people whom I disagree with on the issues, sometimes strongly, but whom I can respect as people and have a reasonable dialogue with.  Barbara Boxer is not one of them.  Her mean-spiritedness, arrogance, and close-mindedness place her in a different category.  Two years is still a long time to put up with her in the Senate, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD

The New York Times's temper tantrum masquerading as an editorial  --  the one attacking police officers' right to dissent  --  is balanced by this more thoughtful view in Commentary.  One may see the officers' turning their backs to Mayor de Blasio as "inappropriate," as Rudy Giuliani and Commissioner William Bratton have said, and still think the First Amendment lives on, even, amazingly, for the police.  Liberals once understood that the right to speak freely is most essential when what gets said is least popular (or "appropriate").  Well, that was then.

I deconstructed the NYT editorial here.  The Commentary article elaborates a similar view, and fleshes out the context of the tension between de Blasio and his police force thusly:

After only a year in office, de Blasio finds himself in a crisis largely of his own making...Having antagonized the police by campaigning against stop and frisk policies, he went a bridge too far when he joined in the chorus of those treating law enforcement as the enemy after Ferguson and then the non-indictment of the officer accused of choking Garner. That rhetoric created the impression that de Blasio agreed with those who have come to view police officers as guilty until proven innocent when it comes to accusations of racism or violence against minorities.

The police are not perfect and can, like politicians, make terrible mistakes. But the problem with the post-Ferguson/Garner critique that was relentlessly plugged by racial inciters, the liberal media and prominent political leaders such as Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder is that it cherry picked two extraordinary and very different incidents and wove it seamlessly into a highly misleading narrative about racism that might have been applicable in Selma, Alabama in 1965 but doesn't reflect the reality of America in 2014. 

The entire article, which isn't that long, is worth the read.


Those Self-Pitying Cops

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The New York Times outdoes itself in this editorial.   While trying manfully not to snicker at the assassination of two policemen, it can't quite get there:

Mr. de Blasio isn't going to say it, but somebody has to: With [their] acts of passive-aggressive contempt and self-pity, many New York police officers, led by their union, are squandering the department's credibility, defacing its reputation, shredding its hard-earned respect.

This from the same NYT that's done everything in its power to destroy the department's credibility, sully its reputation and shred any respect a normal person might feel for it.

But wait!  There's more!

[N]one of [the officers'] grievances can justify the snarling sense of victimhood that seems to be motivating the anti-de Blasio campaign -- the belief that the department is never wrong, that it never needs redirection or reform, only reverence. This is the view peddled by union officials like Patrick Lynch... -- that cops are an ethically impeccable force with their own priorities and codes of behavior, accountable only to themselves, and whose reflexive defiance in the face of valid criticism is somehow normal.

You gotta love it when the grievance-mongering NYT, with no discernible sense of irony, writes about a "snarling sense of victimhood."  Talk about living in a bubble! And here I thought academia was bad.

Seems like we just finished a congressional election, doesn't it?  That's because we did.  The good folks of Staten Island, New York have another one coming up, though. Their just-reelected congressman, Michael Grimm, has been convicted in federal court and has resigned.

Nia-Malika Henderson has this post in The Fix, the WaPo's political blog, titled "Race to replace Grimm could be all about Bill de Blasio and Eric Garner."

This is the district, after all, where Garner was choked by a police officer and later died. It's also the rare part of New York City that doesn't really like the Democratic mayor, who has inflamed New York City police by appearing too sympathetic to the Garner protesters. A recent poll pegged de Blasio's approval on Staten Island at 25 percent, with 58 percent disapproving. City-wide, he was in positive territory, at 50 percent approval and 32 percent disapproval.

Another key data point (referenced above): de Blasio won his 2013 race by a whopping 49 points but still lost Staten Island to Republican Joe Lhota.

Crime wasn't a big issue in the last election.  To some extent, crime fighters are political victims of our own success.  We set out in the 80s to bring down the sky-high crime rates.  Crime issues were prominent in elections in the 80s and 90s, and important changes in policy were made.  Down the rates came, as much as would could have hoped for.  Recently crime has been off most voters' radar screens, as noted in Bill's post.

Falling crime rates were not the only reason for the lack of voter attention, though.  Wars in the Middle East and economic crises at home also displaced crime from the spotlight.  With those issues fading, voter attention to crime may return, even if not at the intensity of years past.

The Voter Suppression Myth

It is an article of faith on the political left that efforts to tighten up protections against voting fraud are really just evil, racist Republican efforts to suppress the vote of racial minorities, who supposedly have enormous difficulty complying with such simple requirements as registering 30 days before an election and showing an ID at the polls.  If that were true, one would expect that success in the effort to "impose barriers" would be followed by a sharp drop in turnout.

Well, it didn't happen in North Carolina.  Robert Popper of Judicial Watch has this op-ed in the WSJ.

Turnout data for the 2014 election, posted Dec. 10 on the state's Board of Elections website, tell a different story. Black turnout and registration for the November 2014 election increased by every relevant measure compared with November 2010, the last non-presidential general election.

A Career Prosecutor for US DAG

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President Obama has nominated Atlanta U.S. Attorney Sally Yates to the number 2 spot at USDoJ, Deputy Attorney General.  Andrew Grossman and Devlin Barrett have this article in the WSJ.

A graduate of the University of Georgia law school, Ms. Yates has 2½ decades of experience as a federal prosecutor. Her career includes the prosecution of Eric Rudolph, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to bombing the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

What's Different About Today's Police Bashing?

Howard Safir, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department from 1996-2000, gives the answer in his short Time magazine essay:

When Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley brutally executed Officers Ramos and Liu he did so in an atmosphere of permissiveness and anti-police rhetoric unlike any that I have seen in 45 years in law enforcement. The rhetoric this time is not from the usual suspects, but from the Mayor of New York City, the Attorney General of the United States, and even the President. It emboldens criminals and sends a message that every encounter a black person has with a police officer is one to be feared. Nothing could be further from the truth. We will never know what was in the mind of Brinsley when he shot officers Ramos and Liu. However we do know that he has seen nothing but police bashing from some of the highest officials in the land.

I disagree with Mr. Safir in only one respect.  We do know what was in Brinsley's mind.  He told us shortly before the murders when he wrote on his Instagram page, "I'm putting wings on pigs today...They Take 1 Of Ours ... Let's Take 2 of Theirs."
Did some quick checking.  Apparently not.  Looks like you folks in NYC are stuck with the huge mistake made by a majority of your fellow citizens for the balance of his term.

Facebook Presidential Announcement

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Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced he will "actively explore" running for President in an unusual way today -- by posting on Facebook.

Laura Meckler has this article in the WSJ on Bush's record as governor.

On crime, he backed a mandatory sentencing law for offenders using guns and enhanced the state's concealed carry law. He also signed the "stand your ground" law giving people the right to use deadly force when threatened, which later played a role in the debate over the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Mr. Bush has said he didn't think the law applied in that case.
Nope, it didn't, as we have noted on this blog many times.  The article's description of the law is not correct.  People have a right to use deadly force when threatened with death or great bodily injury in every state.  A "stand your ground" law abrogates the exception existing in some states that one has a duty to retreat rather than use force even if he has the legal right to be where he is.  When one person has another pinned on the ground, "duty to retreat" is a moot point.  The Zimmerman case was a standard self-defense case and would have come out the same way if the bill in question had never passed.

Also in the WSJ, Beth Reinhard and Patrick O'Connor have this story on the launch.  They note the question that everyone wonders about:

The broader question is whether the Bush family name is an asset or a liability. "I can't see the country electing another Bush," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) "There's still hard feelings about George W. So you start out with a negative because you've got the wrong last name. If he didn't have that last name, he'd be a pretty good candidate."
If life were fair, the family name would not matter either way.  In the famous words of President Kennedy, "Who ever said life was fair?"  Even so, I think he's a "pretty good candidate" anyway.

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