Grumpy Old Men of GOP Accepting Criminal Justice Reform?

Despite the many, many advances being made in both parties by the long-overdue cause of criminal justice reform, the odds of actual progress in Congress have been lowered by the lack of enthusiasm of two grumpy old Republican men who happen to chair the Judiciary Committees: Rep. Bob Goodlette (R-VA) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Farmer).

Last night, though, in an interview with HuffPost, reform proponent Cory Booker suggested things were looking up, per a report from Sam Levine:

The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee was “remarkably open to many aspects of criminal justice reform” during a White House meeting on Tuesday, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told The Huffington Post.

Booker, in a HuffPost Live interview immediately following the meeting, said the discussion among a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers and President Barack Obama was “phenomenal.” He said he told those at the meeting that criminal justice reform would have to be led by the House chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

“I believe — and, God willing, I’m gonna go see him — that he’s gonna be a leader on significant reforms,” Booker said.

He acknowledged that Goodlatte and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) were resistant to some proposals. But he said the “conversation was changing” as Democrats and Republicans alike have embraced reform.

“There’s a profound zeitgeist. There’s nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come. Well, this idea is coming and that power I think is gonna push something good through Congress,” Booker said.

According to Booker, the group at the White House discussed proposals to reform mandatory prison sentences and to better reintegrate individuals into society once they are released from prison.

“So the question will always come down to the details, and I think there’s some red lines for some folks in the Senate,” Booker said. “But the potential now for getting something significant done is really encouraging.”

That’s really good news. It hasn’t been that long ago that mandatory minimum sentencing (an idiotic approach I’ve personally been fighting for nearly two decades) was being subscribed to by Democrats and Republicans as though it came down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets. And it also hasn’t been that long ago that abolishing parole was the hottest criminal justice idea on the political Right, even though it made post-incarceration supervision and integration of offenders almost impossible. So if Booker’s right, we may at least stop being destructively stupid in the foreseeable future.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.