How Do AG Candidates Stand on Justice Reform?

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As President-elect Joe Biden seeks an attorney general who can restore public faith in the Justice Department as an independent law enforcement agency while boosting internal morale, federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland is seen as easily confirmable by the Senate. Some defense lawyers and criminal justice reform advocates say he is too deferential to the government and law enforcement, the Washington Post reports. “It’s certainly a safe choice,” said Kevin Ring of FAMM, a criminal justice advocacy group. “It’s not an inspired choice.” One criminal defense lawyer, saying Garland is on the “wrong side” of criminal justice reform, said, “There’s never a word a police officer or an FBI agent or a government prosecutor ever says that he questions. ” Justin Driver, a former Garland clerk now at Yale Law School, said Garland is not universally deferential to law enforcement or the government. Erin Murphy, another former Garland clerk now at New York University School of Law, said Garland was not likely to back radical reforms but would not resist practical changes.

Among other AG candidates, Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law said Alabama Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) led a task force that recommended a way that prosecutors could reduce crime while reducing mass incarceration. Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates has worked on criminal justice reform after leaving government, serving on the advisory board of the Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank. Adam Gelb, the president of that group, said that though many prosecutors have “been among the loudest and strongest resisting changes to sentencing and corrections policy,” that was not his experience with Yates. Gelb said she urged one of his group’s task forces to recommend the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug crimes.

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