If Joseph Biden runs for president next year, he will have to explain his support for tough-on-crime laws in the last three decades, says the New York Times. As a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he helped pass two bills establishing mandatory minimums for drug offenses and as committee chairman led the drive for the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a sweeping, bipartisan bill that touched nearly every aspect of law enforcement. More than two decades later, a bipartisan coalition of activists and lawmakers seeks to undo the era of mass incarceration they say the 1994 crime bill helped create.
The rapid shift in mood that those efforts reflect, a reaction to falling crime rates and a renewed attention to issues of racial injustice, could prove one of many hurdles for Biden if he decides to become a candidate for president. Activists like Jeremy Haile of The Sentencing Project says that, “Any Democrat that is interested in gaining support among the current electorate, particularly the progressive civil rights communities, is going to have to say that previous tough-on-crime policies were a mistake.” Hillary Rodham Clinton has the same problem. Her husband, who signed what Biden called the “1994 Biden Crime Bill,” has said, “I signed a bill that made the [criminal justice] problem worse.” Still, the law included several measures such as the Violence Against Women Act and a federal ban on certain assault weapons that remain popular among many Democrats.