William Barr’s vision of law and order was forged at the height of the 1990s crack epidemic, when the consensus was that long mandatory prison sentences were the best way to fight crime. Since then, bipartisan support has shifted toward more lenient punishments and prison alternatives. Barr, President Trump’s pick for attorney general, is signaling that his views on the subject are changing. The vastly different landscape confronting Barr was reflected in the second day of his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, which featured testimony from an array of legal, political, police and civil-rights leaders, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Still, Barr’s focus on violent crime and immigration approach largely dovetails with that of his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, who urged federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest punishments in most cases, with a focus on guns, drugs and gangs. Some civil-rights leaders warned that Barr’s approach is out of touch. “He was a general in the war on crime and drugs that was rooted in racism,” Derrick Johnson of the NAACP, testified Wednesday. “We need an attorney general who understands both the history and persistence of racism in our criminal justice system,” Johnson said. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said on Tuesday that Barr has previously suggested that blacks and whites are treated the same way by the criminal justice system, a claim Booker said countless studies have shown to be untrue, reports Vox.com. Booker pressed Barr to commit to a study on these disparities, which Barr agreed to do, saying, “I’ll have the Bureau of Justice Statistics pull together everything they have.”