Delegates to the Republican National Convention will vote today on a platform containing criminal justice planks that combine a robust “law and order” defense of law enforcement with a call to support key justice reforms already underway in many states.
The 66-page draft platform released late yesterday echoes the theme telegraphed by Donald Trump, the party’s presumptive nominee for president, in response to the killing of five Dallas police officers this month.In a video which quickly went viral, Trump called the shootings by a lone sniper an “attack on our country and an attack on our families,” and he added, “Every American has the right to live in safety and peace.”
The platform wording went a step further with implicit criticism of President Barack Obama’s handling of the Dallas shootings and the subsequent murders of three officers in Baton Rouge–and a thinly veiled attack on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The next president must not sow seeds of division and distrust between the police and the people they have sworn to serve and protect,” the draft says. “The Republican Party, a party of law and order, must make clear in words and action that every human life matters.”
In blunt language, the platform condemns “politicized second-guessing” from federal officials which it says has made the job of law enforcement more difficult in crisis situations.
“The current Administration’s lack of respect for (police), from White House intervention in local arrests to the Attorney General’s present campaign of harassment against police forces around the country, has been unprecedented,” claims the platform.
But at the same time, the platform writers applauded moves by “Republican governors and legislators” who have been rewriting state sentencing codes and implementing innovative justice procedures aimed at reducing incarceration and recidivism–using tools ranging from diversion of first-time nonviolent offenders to alternative treatment courts and faith-based initiatives.
“As variants of these reforms are undertaken in many states, we urge the Congress to learn from what works,” the platform said.
But it sounded cautious support for revising mandatory minimum sentencing rules for judges, noting that such sentences remain an “important tool for keeping (dangerous criminals) off the streets.”
The platform supported limited modifications in special categories of offenses, particularly those dealing with non-violent offenders with drug, alcohol or mental health issues.
The GOP reserved some of its strongest language for criticism of the Department of Justice, which it accused of refusing to enforce laws, “stonewalling congressional committees, destroying evidence (and) reckless dealing with firearms that led to several deaths on both sides of the border,” and called on the next administration to dismiss or “where appropriate” prosecute justice officials who violated their oaths of office.
As expected the GOP also targeted what it called the “over-criminalization” of behavior, arguing that Congress and federal agencies have increased the number of offenses in the U.S. code from 3,000 in the 1980s to more than 4,500 today–and “that does not include an estimated 300,000 regulations containing criminal penalties.”
The platform urged the next administration to convene a bipartisan presidential commission to “purge” the U.S. Criminal Code of old crimes and include a “mens rea” defense in any new criminal laws to protect citizens who break the law “unknowingly or without criminal intent”—an issue favored by many prominent Conservative lobby groups and think tanks.