The Corner

Rand Paul Clarifies That He Doesn’t Want to Repeal Laws against Murder, but His Idea Is Still Ridiculous and Irresponsible

In response to Roger Scuton On Tv & Schooling

Rich notes a bizarre line from Rand Paul’s launch speech today, in which he said he’d like to see “an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed.” 

Since people of color are incarcerated for violent crimes at much higher rates than white Americans are, this would imply Paul wants to repeal most laws against violent crime. His campaign says he didn’t mean this, but their clarification, to the Washington Examiner’s Byron York, is not much better: “Sen. Paul was referring to nonviolent crimes,” a spokesman said.

This isn’t very helpful — there are a lot of nonviolent crimes that land blacks or Latinos in prison more often than their share of the population would suggest. Does Paul want to repeal laws against visa overstaying, or heroin possession, or smuggling?

Now, maybe Paul just meant he wants to get rid of all laws that land people of color in prison at rates higher than the rate at which they commit the crime in question (his campaign didn’t say this, though). The problem with this is that it’s quite hard to say which laws those are, so we can’t just promise to repeal whichever ones qualify. And even if we could determine which laws are applied unequally, that doesn’t mean we should do away with them, it just presents a problem that might be outweighed by the law’s necessity or benefits for public order. There are other ways to fix the unequal application of justice than repealing statutes wholesale. (Indeed, Paul and other conservatives have suggested some of them.)

Paul’s enthusiasm for criminal-justice reform, and concern for how that system can often harm black and Latino Americans, is commendable, but this problem deserves serious proposals, not ridiculous campaign rhetoric.

Patrick Brennan was a senior communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration and is former opinion editor of National Review Online.

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