The Republican platform contains a remarkable “sleeper” provision calling for repeal of nearly all of the federal criminal code. So far as I can tell, this radical proposal has not caught the attention of the press or even of legal scholars. Maybe the reason is that it’s buried in a long section on law enforcement.
Here’s what the platform says: “Federal criminal law should focus on acts by federal employees or acts committed on federal property – and leave the rest to the States.” This isn’t just a call to prioritize certain crimes rather than others – instead, it says that the federal government should limit itself to a very narrow set of crimes and the states should do everything else.
That may not leap off the page at you as a big deal. But if you take it seriously, the scope of the proposal is considerably broad. Hundreds, if not thousands, of federal laws would have to go by the wayside. Federal criminal law covers many actions by private citizens that don’t take place on government property – since many crimes take place across state lines or have national significance.
To begin with, we would have to decriminalize drugs, ending bans on interstate drug sales, drug smuggling, and penalties for drug kingpins. Organized crime would be more difficult to regulate, with the repeal of federal anti-racketeering laws. Child pornographers would be similarly less regulated; free from any federal penalties for selling child porn on the Internet. Bank robbers would no longer have to worry about the FBI.
Further, terrorists would no longer be subject to federal law enforcement. So long as they did not commit their crimes on federal land, there would be no federal penalty for even things like blowing up airplanes or buildings like the Twin Towers, or for obtaining or using weapons of mass destruction. The platform would allow criminal penalties for crimes by federal officers but not crimes against them. Theoretically, killing the president or members of Congress or FBI agents would no longer be federal offenses, assuming the crime wasn’t committed on federal property.
White-collar criminals would also find comfort if the GOP platform were fully embraced. No federal penalties for bribing members of Congress or local officials. No criminal penalties for price-fixing conspiracies, securities fraud, bank embezzlement, or bid rigging. No penalties for dumping toxic chemicals or breaking safety laws. No penalties for tax fraud either, as long as it’s not committed in a government building. And the platform also contains another proposal that would benefit white-collar criminals. It calls for repealing laws that make it a crime to intentionally violate federal regulations.
What’s behind this bizarre platform plank? There’s no way to be sure, but it seems to reflect three motivations. The first is pure Tea Party. The federal criminal code extends the power of the national government; a non-starter for many hard-liners. The second is pure Bain. Business people hate the idea that something they might do, as opposed to something done by inner-city gangbangers, could be considered criminal. That may be the source of the platform’s complaint about the “over-criminalization of behavior.” Finally, some convention delegates were probably aware of specific instances where the federal government has criminalized conduct that should be left to the states. They didn’t focus on the fact that the platform’s remedy went far beyond dealing with a few instances of federal overreach.
Of course, there’s no chance that a Republican President or Congress would go that far. Drug dealers, terrorists, and child pornographers are not popular figures with Republicans. White-collar criminals might have better luck, however. Putting inner-city criminals in prison is one thing, but putting away people who go to the office wearing suits somehow seems less palatable. So we might actually see a move to reduce sharply the federal government’s prosecution of white-collar crime.
But more important than its direct impact is what this platform provision says about the Republican Party, and the political dialogue for that matter, today. It shows the lengths to which we are willing to go to accommodate the views of ideological extremists and business interests. It is not a good sign that, in order to placate those groups, the GOP is willing to go on record with a proposal as radical as this one.
Join the discussion Please be relevant and respectful.
This may be the best thing the Republican Party has done in 40 years. However, not worth the risk of putting them in power to see if they follow through.
America has the highest percentage of population incarcerated of any nation. Perhaps the problem is not the people deemed criminals but the criminals writing the laws.
Giving over these powers to the states would save the Federal government lots of trouble, and money.
I think the 10th Amendment has already codified that states have rights to anything not enumerated to the FedGov in Article 1, Section 8... but as my 12th grade teacher told me, it doesn't matter anymore because of the [War Between the States]. It's been repealed by every law that put the Federal Government above the states government- which has been happening too much lately.
Lynn Baker, the 1860 poster is only a featured image for design purposes, it is not what the author is referencing.
There are two different approaches to solving problems in this country. One approach is to centralize power and restrict freedom. The other is to decentralize power and extend freedom. It is obvious from this article that Mr. Farber favors the first approach. This is fine, but he should differentiate between his opinion and the facts. If he desires to be objective, he should include both the arguments for and against this kind of deregulation. But presently he just sounds like the plantation owners arguing that cotton will never be picked if we don't have slaves.
daniel farber is delusional , his reference is a poster from 1860 during the civil war era when US was fighting for its life !!!
I like to be specific. Most of the comments don't actually address the referenced language. Here it is: "The resources of the federal government’s law enforcement and judicial systems have been strained by two unfortunate expansions: the over-criminalization of behavior and the over-federalization of offenses. The number of criminal offenses in the U.S. Code increased from 3,000 in the early 1980s to over 4,450 by 2008. Federal criminal law should focus on acts by federal employees or acts committed on federal property – and leave the rest to the States. Then Congress should withdraw from federal departments and agencies the power to criminalize behavior, a practice which, according to the Congressional Research Service, has created “tens of thousands” of criminal offenses. No one other than an elected representative should have the authority to define a criminal act and set criminal penalties. In the same way, Congress should reconsider the extent to which it has federalized offenses traditionally handled on the State or local level." (wish FB allowed formatting. It would be nice to be able to highlight some points) The point of the plank is that much of the behavior criminalized in the federal code that is being criticized is more appropriately addressed at the state or local level. Criminal behavior wouldn't necessarily be decriminalized, it would just be adjudicated at a level that doesn't seem to need to declare a "war" on everything else besides an actual foreign enemy nation. This plank doesn't seek to decriminalize all those behaviors, it only calls for a redefinition of the proper role and scope of federal laws.
Bob Heffner The Platform can be found here: http://www.gop.com/2012-republican-platform_renewing/
The clause in question is at the very bottom of that page.
Can someone cite an official link to the official Republican platform that shows this? It seems strange that the Republicans who wish to legislate and prosecute medical marijuana, marriage, etc, would allow for less power to do so.
Great idea! Getting the federal government out of the prosecution business would be a great step in decentralizing power. An example of the federal govt overstepping is their okaying credit default swaps after every state had outlawed them for decades. As most are aware, credit default swaps are wagers on someone else's debt, and they led to the 2008 financial collapse we're still trying to dig out of. The federal govt is a huge poorly managed bureaucracy. Anything that decentralizes that is worthy of support.
All of the Romney/Ryans policies are backwards vs Forward. Bushanomics hit me personnally hard. I know (without going through it) I DO NOT want me or my children or my Grandchildren to live through a Great Depression. As the inequality grows and the middle class and retirees shrink, this is exactly where the Romney/Ryan ticket policies heads us. I am voting Obama 2012 due to I personnally cannot afford to go Backwards.
It's a clear case of bumper sticker philosophy being taken seriously. The sound bite culture that doesn't allow for nuanced detail and treats words like "scholar" and "professor" as invectives doesn't call for true understanding.
Because the GOP has allowed itself to be hijacked by an extremist faction of Right-wingers with the great misnomer of the "Tea Party."
I have searched the Republican platform and have not found the quote that you give at the beginning of this piece. Please Explain.
Amazing! The Republican platform wants to clean up the federal statutes by giving more prosecutorial power to the states. The DOJ will have its funding slashes, but what about the Supreme Court? Does teach state's appeals go to a different state supreme court? First Ron Paul mentioned entire government agencies should be scrapped and now federal laws? There is some sense in federal cuts, but this may be going too far.
Who here bets they're keeping the drug laws? A few Republican ideas still make a little sense but this is one of their biggest hypocrisies.
So you mean, someone actually wants to enforce states' rights? Shocking that a person in this day and age wants to follow the constitution!
We should have been trying to buck the massive fed off our backs for decades now. Most of these problems and issues in this article should most definitely be left up to the constituents of individual states to decide how to handle their local problems... Not oppressive totalitarians subduing the country from DC.
Yes, where would the Republicans be without the military fighting the war on drugs outside of the US? They tend to love hypocrisy.