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Do Jackson Hearings Signal Shift of Political Winds on Crime Policy?

For the bipartisan group of lawmakers, policy experts and activists who have campaigned to overhaul the criminal justice system, last week’s Supreme Court nomination hearings were ominous. They watched as Republicans pummeled Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson with questions about her time on the U.S. Sentencing Commission and attacked her sentencing decisions in criminal cases. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, said the U.S. was “in the midst of a national violent crime wave” as he accused President Biden of carrying out “a national campaign to make the federal bench systematically softer on crime.” It was a pointed demonstration of the possible end of widespread agreement that the nation’s approach to crime needs an overhaul, reports the New York Times. Conservative support for that idea was always fragile and selective, at least at the congressional level. It was propped up by an infusion of cash from certain donors — along with arm-twisting by a Republican president who saw an opportunity to peel Black voters away from Democrats.


Clark Neily of the libertarian Cato Institute, said, “the bloom is off the criminal justice rose for many on the right.” The First Step Act, a modest bill that tweaked federal federal sentencing laws, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2018 and was signed by President Trump. Thirty-eight Republican senators voted for it, including a reluctant McConnell. Reformers in both parties envisioned it as the beginning of a series of major changes to a system widely seen as overburdened and rife with inequity. Instead, with violent crime rising during the coronavirus pandemic, such efforts are presenting a fat political target. Public opinion surveys show an unmistakable trend: 72 percent of Americans said they were dissatisfied with national policies to control or reduce crime in Gallup’s latest poll on the subject, with 42 percent very dissatisfied. Some Democrats are sensing a shift in the political winds. The leading challenger to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in the Democratic primary race, Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island, joined Republicans iwho have criticized the state’s 2020 bail reform law as too soft on dangerous criminals. “When there’s no consequences for crime,” Suozzi said, “crime keeps going up.”

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