Archive for the ‘Mike Lee’ Category

Republican Senator Mike Lee suggests Donald Trump could kill the Republican Party

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

As an original tea party organizer, I participated in our movement’s growth from an act of street protest into an organized, albeit decentralized political force. By 2010, we had managed to elect some of the most impressive liberty Republicans seen in generations.

I was optimistic.

Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Raul Labrador, Mick Mulvaney, and David Schweikert, these were Republican leaders of integrity.

But one of the best remains Mike Lee.

Sen. Lee is a brilliant constitutional conservative — who also happens to be one of the most down to earth people you’ll ever meet. As the Republican National Convention unfolds — or more accurately, erupts into chaos — Lee has been thrust into a position of influence both logistically and intellectually.

The mild-mannered Utahan, who has expressed concern about the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, is Chairman of the RNC’s Rules Committee this year. And as he told Politico, “I have never in all my life, certainly in six years in the United States Senate, prior to that as a lifelong Republican, never seen anything like this.”

Lee was referencing pro-Trump forces running roughshod over delegates who wanted a chance to vote on rules they found unfair and silencing. A critic of Trump himself, Lee hoped Republican delegates — by the nature of their positions longtime Republican activists — would be allowed more say over the direction of their party.

As he told The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes: “There’s a lot of support for reforms within the Republican Party, particularly changing the rules to make sure we remain a vibrant party, a party that welcomes grassroots participation and nurtures activists rather than shunning them.”

And Hayes accurately described Lee, writing, “In his short time in the U.S. Senate, Utah Republican Mike Lee has distinguished himself as a policy innovator and a constitutional conservative who actually knows the Constitution.”

The intellectual backbone Lee has provided the Republican Party in the six short years he’s been in office has been invaluable. As a liberty Republican activist who hoped we could harness conservative disapproval of Washington forlibertarian populist ends, Lee’s work has stood out as a policy beacon.

Unfortunately, this project has been severely disrupted in the near-term by Trump’s more authoritarian form of populism. As the New York Times’ Ross Douthat observed:

This is of course, in reference to Lee’s last stand, flanked by other delegates highly skeptical of Trump; who represent a majority of Republican voters. As Rare’s Yasmeen Alamiri reported, Lee stood with the convention-goers demanding a rules vote, per traditional RNC protocol.

Instead, Lee and his allies were silenced; their mics literally turned off by party bosses.

It’s impossible to describe this as anything but a setback for constitutional conservatives who have been working to harness grassroots passion for limited government purposes. If you were to freeze 2016 in time, it would appear that our work has decisively failed.

But I do believe — and Mike Lee is one of the many wonderful conservatives at the center of this — despite this unfortunate detour, constitutional and liberty Republicans are laying the groundwork for a generational shift.

As Lee said, “The Republican Party has been known as the natural refuge of the conservative. If we find ourselves with a candidate who doesn’t maintain that status, I don’t know what happens. I don’t know how to live in that world. I don’t know how the Republican Party maintains its vitality. I don’t think it does.”

This speaks to the fact that political parties are empty vessels absent principles. Sure, the Republican Party can be shaped into a more liberty friendly entity. We’ve seen strong evidence of that as a possibility in the past decade. At the same time, we’ve seen how a party can easily be taken in a more authoritarian direction.

This is why the project of liberty conservatives in Congress remains crucial; a truth Mike Lee is keenly aware of. As he told The Weekly Standard, “I look forward to the day when it’ll no longer be news when Congress is actually taking steps to rein in executive overreach, to rein in the federal regulatory system and to do so with a mandate from the people who are made to understand number one Congress has cause this problem.”

This work is paramount whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton becomes our next Commander in Chief. A Congress that acquiesces to a president’s every whim has abdicated its basic function as a representative body.

If prospects for liberty look grim in the immediate future, we can take solace in the fact that Congress seems keen on asserting its supremacy in the face of both Trump and Clinton. Constitutionally speaking, that’s the best outcome conservatives can hope for.

Luckily, we have men like Mike Lee to lead us.

Progress on Criminal Justice Reform Represents the Positive Side of Bipartisanship

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe

Bipartisanship is often a dirty word to libertarians. This may seem counterintuitive, seeing as we tend to agree with conservatives on many issues while siding with liberals on others. But when it comes to how Washington operates, bipartisanship typically represents Democrats and Republicans scheming to increase the power of the political class at the expense of average Americans. This comes in the form of across-the-aisle “compromise” on issues such as piling up national debt, funding corporate bailouts, and generally increasing the size of government in a manner that prevents businesses without political connections from fairly competing in the market.

In recent years, however, a positive bipartisan consensus has formed around the notion that our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform. Nearly half of all federal inmates are incarcerated as a result of drug charges, tearing families apart, all over non-violent crimes. Meanwhile, taxpayers spend $500 per minute on the War on Drugs, yet drug trafficking has increased over the years. Clearly, it’s long past time for a change.

This speaks to why earlier this month, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act was introduced in the Senate. As Ari Melber at MSNBC reported: “The bill would reform federal prison sentencing to reduce some of the automatic and harsh punishments Congress passed since it began cracking down on drug use. It would end the federal ‘three strikes’ rule and limit the use of mandatory 10-year sentences for offenders who have not committed violent or major felonies.

Beyond reforming the length of some prison terms, the bill would also bulk up rehab programs for selected inmates, including job training, drug treatment and religious programs designed to reduce recidivism. The proposal also restricts the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, an increasingly controversial practice in American prisons.”

This piece of legislation represents a compromise that follows earlier bills such as the Smarter Sentencing Act and Justice Safety Valve Act. Both were introduced in the Senate and had the backing of libertarian Republican Senator Rand Paul, but they have thus far failed to garner enough support to move forward. What they have done, despite the lack of legislative progress, is act as crucial building blocks to get to the point the Senate reached this month. To many reform advocates however, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is merely a band-aid on a bullet wound. This is largely because Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, remains committed to the basic premises of the War on Drugs.

As Jacob Sullum said at Reason: “The Smarter Sentencing Act was already a compromise compared to the Justice Safety Valve Act, a bill backed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would have eliminated mandatory minimums. Yet Grassley called the less ambitious bill ‘lenient’ and ‘dangerous,’ since it would lighten penalties for offenses involving substantial amounts of drugs and manufacture, smuggling, or distribution. He conflated such offenses with violence, which means he either does not understand what that word means or does not understand how the current law works. It’s a shame that reformers in the Senate must kowtow to such a mindlessly punitive demagogue.”

While supporters of strong criminal justice reform such as Sullum see the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act as watered down compared to more ambitious bills, many see it as a slow but sure step in the right direction given the atrocious state of affairs. As Julie Stewart, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said in response to the new legislation:

This bill isn’t the full repeal of mandatory minimum sentences we ultimately need, but it is a substantial improvement over the status quo and will fix some of the worst injustices created by federal mandatory sentences.” Added Stewart regarding the fact that the law will apply to individuals already incarcerated: “This bill will save countless families unnecessary hardship in the future, but just as important, it will provide relief to thousands of prisoners currently serving excessive sentences. Retroactivity is the right thing to do morally and economically. These reforms will help reduce the prison population and shift more resources to crime prevention and rehabilitation.”

As for the downsides, Stewart ultimately agreed with Sullum’s take on the negatives – particularly around the fact that the bill includes new mandatory minimum sentencing despite reducing certain penalties: “It’s a shame that some lawmakers have not broken their addiction to mandatory minimums despite mountains of evidence proving they aren’t necessary or proven to deter crime. We will work to strike these useless provisions, which fly in the face of the rest of the bill’s smart reforms.”

Regarding the bill’s new mandatory minimums, Bonnie Kristian explained at Rare: “If passed, it will actually expand mandatory minimum sentencing for some crimes, particularly violent crimes and those related to ‘supporting terrorism.’ This latter bit is concerning because it has the potential to be very vague, possibly even including nonviolent activities that properly ought to be considered free (if despicable) speech.”

This point is certainly concerning from a libertarian perspective. Advocates of civil liberties have fought tirelessly, particularly in a post 9/11-era, to make sure that the government cannot detain citizens it merely accuses of terrorism without the access to due process they’re constitutionally entitled to. Recent examples of this include the proxy-war over an indefinite detention provision that was first tacked on to the annual National Defense Authorization Act for the 2012 fiscal year. Across the political aisle, politicians from Diane Feinstein to Rand Paul tried to stop the detainment of Americans without a trial, but these controversial provisions remain in place.

This lends itself to questions surrounding increased mandatory minimums for “supporting terrorism.” We already have a government that doesn’t even blink at violating a citizen’s’ basic right to a trial. Now we have to take discretion out of the hands of the officials actually on the ground dealing with sentencing to satisfy overzealous politicians? It’s certainly a concern, seeing as the problems with mandatory minimums in drug cases are obvious. It will certainly be interesting to see how this provision plays out as the bill works its way through the Senate.

Despite some flaws, it ultimately appears as though the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a step in the right direction. Like most political progress, it’s rife with compromise; but if it places us on a positive path, the hope is to build up from there. Reducing mandatory minimum sentencing around drug crimes, particularly retroactively, will go a long way toward reducing the non-violent prison population. Crucially, it will also give judges the ability to better form a punishment based on the actual crime in question, rather than being tied down by what often amounts to an arbitrary federal restriction.

If all goes well, this bill will ultimately be signed into law. Perhaps the more radical reforms that have already been introduced, in addition to new ones in the works, can get a fair hearing and pass through Congress as well. The good news is that progress is being made, and the retroactive aspects of these pieces of legislation will do tangible good for the people presently ensnared in our maze of a penal system. Time will tell whether true justice will ultimately be served.

ObamaCare at the SCOTUS, Day 2

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Well, well. It certainly looks like ObamaCare underwent quite a critical analysis today in the Supreme Court. Listening to Solicitor General Donald Verrelli bend logic to defend this constitutionally questionable piece of legislation was interesting to say the least, and certainly, one of the more important aspects was the reactions from Justice Kennedy, who is largely seen as the man who will be the key swing vote.

The good folks over at the Texas Public Policy Foundation succinctly summarized today well by saying:

“Several of the justices expressed skepticism about the propriety of the mandate. Justice Kennedy stated that the mandate ‘changes the relationship of the Federal Government to the individual in the very fundamental way.’ Justice Scalia said that a law which violates the principle of limited powers cannot be ‘proper’ within the meaning of the Necessary and Proper Clause. And Justices Roberts and Alito seemed deeply troubled by the government’s inability to articulate a limiting principle for the federal commerce power.”

And as for Kennedy, the most notable comment from him comes via today’s direct transcript, grabbed from a tweet I saw earlier via Lachlan Markay of the Heritage Institute:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Can you identify for us some limits on the Commerce Clause?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Yes. The — the rationale purely under the Commerce Clause that we’re advocating here would not justify forced purchases of commodities for the purpose of stimulating demand. We — the — it would not justify purchases of insurance for the purposes — in situations in which insurance doesn’t serve as the method of payment for service -­

JUSTICE KENNEDY: But why not? If Congress — if Congress says that the interstate commerce is affected, isn’t, according to your view, that the end of the analysis.

While Kennedy’s skepticism in that regard sounds promising, of course, the truth is that it’s rather difficult to predict a case’s outcome based solely on the oral arguments. We can never know if the Justices are engaged in a devil’s advocate type of behavior with their lines of questioning, but it’s certainly reasonable to assume that Justice Kennedy did in fact have some reservations. At the very least, he was certainly one of the most engaged Justices during Verrilli’s statements.

Another aspect of the Kennedy question comes from Senator Mike Lee, who I again am relying upon to share some insider info. As a Senator and constitutional lawyer who was present at today’s oral arguments, he certainly has some valuable insight. Given that he was there in person, Senator Lee makes some interesting notes about Kennedy’s body language that we otherwise miss out on listening to the oral arguments audio alone.


ObamaCare at the SCOTUS, Day One

Monday, March 26th, 2012

As anyone who pays even a remote bit of attention to politics knows, the first oral arguments surrounding ObamaCare (Florida v. HHS) were heard in the Supreme Court today. As a result, I wanted to put together a brief summary of what’s at stake. There’s no doubt that the ruling in this case will set an unbelievably important precedent; likely as monumental as both Wickard v. Fiburn (the first case to massively expand the commerce clause) and Roe v. Wade (the infamous ruling on abortion that took away a state’s right to regulate the procedure).

Constitutional lawyer and Senator, Mike Lee (who happens to be one of my favorite elected officials) put together a great pre-game analysis: