Love him or hate him, Rand Paul scored big with libertarians this week when he spoke out about loosening the reigns of minimum mandatory sentences and voting rights for convicted criminals. Paul aptly points out,
“If I told you that one out of three African-American males is forbidden by law from voting, you might think I was talking about Jim Crow 50 years ago. Yet today, a third of African-American males are still prevented from voting because of the war on drugs.”
In Kentucky, where Paul serves as a Representative, felons have to petition the governor to have their voting rights restored even after they have served their sentence. Paul is considering ways to reinstate voting rights to citizens who have served their time and spoke particularly about non-violent criminals (as he should, given the huge conviction rate disparities between whites and minorities) and mentioned the idea of automatically returning voting rights if the criminals have not committed any crimes five years after their release. Paul made it clear that he was still fine-tuning his ideas and willing to hold discussion.
Paul also criticized the practice of mandatory sentencing and is sponsoring a bill to provide judges with more flexibility in sentencing. “Mandatory minimum sentencing has done little to address the very real problem of drug abuse while also doing great damage by destroying so many lives,” Paul argued. The New York Times went as far as to say that “current and former prison inmates… have rarely had as impassioned a champion in Congress.”
In the usual political pandering style, Paul shared stories about victims of the United States’ hyper-aggressive war on drugs, talking about Edward Clay, a man who was arrested carrying less than 2 ounces of cocaine, yet was sentenced to ten years in prison because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. “We went crazy on the war on drugs,” Paul said, “We have people in jail for life for nonviolent drug crimes. I think this is a crime in and of itself.”
While many libertarians (including myself) question why drug offenders are treated as felons in the first place, Paul has picked a good place to start combating the incarceration-crazed legal system. He admitted his dislike of felony drug offenses, saying “I would just as soon take some of these non-violent crimes and make them misdemeanors so you don’t get in that trap.”
Drug laws are a serious pitfall in the American justice system because of their infringement upon personal liberty and disproportionately harmful effect on minorities vs. whites. I know Rand Paul is a serious hit or miss with libertarians, but we should champion anyone willing to take on politically unpopular stances in order to advance ethically responsible causes. And for that, I can Stand with Rand.