A source has provided TAC with the criminal-justice language from the new GOP platform (which will not become official until next week). It’s not a dramatic departure from the 2012 language—available starting on page 37 here—but a few differences are worth pointing out.
The last platform began with an endorsement of “strong families,” “caring communities,” and “excellent law enforcement.” The new one’s intro focuses on law enforcement and says the Obama administration has
urged leniency for rioters while turning a blind eye to mob attacks on peaceful citizens exercising their political rights. A new Administration must ensure the immediate dismissal and, where appropriate, prosecution of any Department officials who have violated their oath of office.
Both platforms note the need for tough, including mandatory, sentencing in some cases, but the new platform is less strident. This 2012 language is gone:
Liberals do not understand this simple axiom: criminals behind bars cannot harm the general public. To that end, we support mandatory prison sentencing for gang crimes, violent or sexual offenses against children, repeat drug dealers, rape, robbery and murder.
The new party line focuses on what should change rather than what shouldn’t:
In the past, judicial discretion about sentences led to serious mistakes concerning dangerous criminals. Mandatory minimum sentencing became an important tool for keeping them off the streets. Modification to it should be targeted toward particular categories, especially nonviolent offenders and persons with drug, alcohol, or mental health issues, and should require disclosure by the courts of any judicial departure from the State’s sentencing requirements.
And where the old platform embraced efforts to rehabilitate criminals and reduce recidivism, the new one “applaud[s] the Republican governors and legislators who have been implementing” those changes. “As variants of these reforms are undertaken in many States, we urge the Congress to learn from what works,” it says. (I was glad to see that the platform refrains from claiming conservative states are “leading” on justice reform; I argued last month that this popular talking point isn’t quite true.)
While both platforms denounce overcriminalization and decry the fact that agency bureaucrats have the power to create criminal offenses, the new one calls for some new reforms:
To deal with this morass, we urge an immediate halt to the creation of new “crimes” and a bipartisan presidential commission to purge the Code and the body of regulations of old “crimes.” We call for a mens rea element to protect Americans who, in violating a law, act unknowingly or without criminal intent. We urge Congress to codify the Common Law’s Rule of Lenity, which requires courts to interpret unclear statutes in favor of a defendant.
Again, this isn’t a dramatic shift, but it reflects numerous developments that have occurred since 2016.
Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative. Follow @RAVerBruggen