Eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus met today with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in a small room adjacent to the cloak rooms on the House floor. The members convened the bipartisan meeting to focus on what they might be able to work on in the future regarding justice reform.
Attending the gathering were Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Al Green (D-TX), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and staff members from House Judiciary. Sen. Paul could be seen on the House floor chatting with members before the meeting as the House voted on the USA Freedom Act.
The justice reform powwow was convened by Rep. Scott who has successfully worked with Republicans and fellow Senate Democrats to pass several justice reform bills into law in recent years. Over the last five to even years, justice reform has become increasingly bipartisan.
Bipartisan justice legislation that has become law include The Death in Custody Reporting Act, which passed the Republican controlled House in 2013 and the Democratic Senate in 2014, the Fair Sentencing Act, which was signed into law in 2010, and the The Second Chance Act, which became law in 2007.
Democrats Scott, John Conyers (D-MI) and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), have worked with Sen. Paul, Reps. Tom Massie (D-KY), Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Sen. Mike Lee to find agreement on prison reduction, over criminalization and mandatory minimum policy. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have also participated in recent bipartisan justice reform efforts. How far bipartisanship will go with regard to Ferguson related police brutality legislation is unknown but it will clearly be a heavy lift.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in the rate of incarceration and state and local governments are running out of money locking so many people up. A bipartisan task force on over-incarceration headed by Reps. Sensenbrenner and Scott was created in February 2014.
In the Senate Sen. Paul has been a standout on criminal justice. He was instrumental in convincing three Republican colleagues to take “holds” off of the Death in Custody Act so it could pass the Senae by unanimous consent in December 2014. Sen. Paul is also the only Senator willing to consistently vote against legislation that contains mandatory minimums, a policy he has called “madness.” That position puts him in a much more progressive position than many so-called “progressives” Democrats on justice reform.
In October 2014, Sen. Paul wrote: “It will take bipartisan leadership and courage to repair the damage of the War on Drugs’ impact on non-violent criminals, many of whom are serving longer terms than violent criminals.” In February, Sen. Paul teamed with Sen. Leahy (D-VT) on the Justice Safety Valve Act which would give federal judges power to hand down sentences lower than the mandatory punishment.
Rep. Scott has partnered with firebrand Tea Party Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) on the Youth PROMISE (Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education), which was introduced on May 1.
Though there was a conspicuously bold media rollout by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Paul last year for criminal justice reform with the introduction of The REDEEM Act, the bill did not advance. Many criminal justice bills that have become law in recent years were the result of strategically quiet efforts.