In the next several months, the Supreme Court will decide at least a half-dozen cases about the rights of people accused of crimes involving drugs, sex and corruption. Civil liberties groups and associations of defense lawyers have lined up on the side of the accused.
But so have conservative, libertarian and business groups. Their briefs and public statements are signs of an emerging consensus on the right that the criminal justice system is an aspect of big government that must be contained.
The development represents a sharp break with tough-on-crime policies associated with the Republican Party since the Nixon administration.
“It’s a remarkable phenomenon,” said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “The left and the right have bent to the point where they are now in agreement on many issues. In the area of criminal justice, the whole idea of less government, less intrusion, less regulation has taken hold.”
I'm not sure why this is such a surprise. For some reason over the years, libertarian philosophy was co-opted by the right in this country, yet many so-called "issues of the left" are decidedly anti-government, libertarian in nature (pro-choice, drug decriminalization, anti-capital punishment, etc.).
However, I would be skeptical of this sudden death-bed conversion (or perhaps it's a "Great Recession-Conversion") on behalf of conservatives. Their rhetoric seems oddly dismissive of policies they once embraced and rammed down the public's throats for the past 25 years.
Edwin Meese III, who was known as a fervent supporter of law and order as attorney general in the Reagan administration, now spends much of his time criticizing what he calls the astounding number and vagueness of federal criminal laws.LOL. Keep in mind, this is the former Attorney General who launched the War on Drugs in the 1980's, pushed for the asset forfeiture laws to be changed to allow for easier seizures of private property by the government, and imprisoned more African-Americans per capita than at any other time since slavery.
Mr. Meese once referred to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of the “criminals’ lobby.” These days, he said, “in terms of working with the A.C.L.U., if they want to join us, we’re happy to have them.”In an interview at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group where he is a fellow, Mr. Meese said the “liberal ideas of extending the power of the state” were to blame for an out-of-control criminal justice system. “Our tradition has always been,” he said, “to construe criminal laws narrowly to protect people from the power of the state.”
But hey, let's let bygones be bygones. On behalf of those of us who have been arguing for sense and sanity in criminal justice for the past few decades, I'll welcome Mr. Meese and any other conservative or libertarian to the cause.
Pull up a chair and roll up your sleeves. The extent of the mess that was made over the past 25 years is astonishing. We have much work to do.