California is about to let race shockingly tip the scales of justice
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California, that bellwether of the absurd, is about to do it again. The same legislature that rejected legislation to add human trafficking of a minor for purposes of a commercial sex act to the state’s list of “serious” felonies – until public outrage prompted reconsideration – has now seen the supermajority Democrats pass a bill out of the Assembly that mandates consideration of race in criminal sentencing.
The California State Assembly voted Assembly Bill 852 out of the chamber on a vote of 58 to 13 in May with all aye votes coming from Democrats. The measure is now pending before the Public Safety Committee in the Senate (critics call it the “Public Jeopardy Committee”).
AB 852 grows out of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Reparations Task Force. The bill requires California’s criminal courts to consider the “disparate impact on historically disenfranchised and system-impacted populations” when issuing a sentence.
AB 852 grows out of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Reparations Task Force.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
In other words, two men with similar criminal histories, each convicted of murder, would see different sentencing outcomes dependent on the color of their skin—something one might have expected in the Jim Crow-era South, but certainly not in present-day America.
Our justice system is supposed to punish individuals for what they do, not for who they are – as President Biden’s son Hunter may be starting to find out. Extending preferential treatment to a criminal based on their race wrongly punishes individuals not benefiting from that leniency. Further, the lack of punishment could be seen as excusing the criminal act for which an individual is convicted.
Additionally, and especially now when the public’s perception of a two-tier justice system is particularly acute, injecting race into our justice system destroys public confidence in the judicial process and injures the democratic ideal that we are all equal before the law.
Brett Tolman, a former U.S. attorney and executive director of Right On Crime, a national conservative criminal justice campaign of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, criticized the proposed law, noting, “Equity sentencing is a direct violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and sets up the criminal justice system to fail. Lady justice is blindfolded for a distinct reason – to not be persuaded by a person’s sex or color of their skin or their religion to deliver a disparate sentence.”
Tolman’s comments parallel the U.S. Supreme Court 1979’s declaration in Rose v. Mitchell that “Discrimination on the basis of race, odious in all aspects, is especially pernicious in the administration of justice.”
This echoes existing California law which states that a conviction or sentence is unlawful if a defendant can prove that it was meted out on the basis of race, ethnicity or national origin. Thus, AB 852 would be a giant step backward.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, based in Sacramento, has been sharply critical of the bill. Andrew Quinio, one of the foundation’s attorneys, said, “Using race to determine punishment is an outrageous violation of the right to equal treatment under the law. AB 852’s requirement that courts consider race in determining a criminal sentence undermines and sows doubt in our justice system. It also revives an ugly stain in our history when individuals could be punished because of their skin color. For justice to be blind, it must also be color blind.”
The Reparations Task Force in California, a state that fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War and in which no person lives today who was either slave or master when the practice was still legal in parts of the U.S., has also recommended that the state shutter 10 prisons in five years, repurposing the facilities to benefit African Americans. But it’s clear that California’s prisons do benefit its Black citizens – by protecting them and all the state’s residents from violent criminals.
Black Americans number just under 14% of the population but suffered 53% of homicides in 2020, up 32% from the year before the advent of defund-the-police, Black Lives Matter, and widespread urban unrest – with 2,457 more murder victims compared to the year before. In a typical year, 9 in 10 people who murder a Black American are themselves Black, meaning going even easier on violent felons in California will most likely end up resulting in more dead Black Californians.
But, in the twisted world of progressive grievance politics, it’s not outcomes that matter, but loudly stated intentions – when logic and reason die, people soon after get robbed, raped and murdered.
Chuck DeVore is a vice president with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, was elected to the California legislature, is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, and the author of the new book, “Crisis of the House Never United.”