At this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference just outside DC, Grover Norquist with Americans for Tax Reform told a packed room that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are now embracing changes to the War on Drugs model that has led to an explosion in mass incarceration over the last several decades. But he warned that the two parties were backing the reforms for different reasons.
“Democrats only support [criminal justice reform] because all their relatives are in prison,” he said, to chuckles from the audience, adding that Republicans believed mandatory minimums are ineffective and un-American.
The panel’s moderator, Pat Nolan with the American Conservative Union Foundation, hit back at Norquist, noting that “because of this drug war, a whole lot of Republicans have family in prison too.”
One of those Republicans was sitting right next to Norquist. Julie Stewart with Families Against Mandatory Minimums spoke passionately about her own brother, who was arrested and sentenced in Washington State in the 1990s for growing marijuana plants — an act, she noted, that is now legal. She said she agrees that he deserved some punishment, but thought that punishment should be decided by a judge who understand his personal circumstances.
“Lawmakers like Nancy Pelosi shouldn’t be deciding the fate of people they’ve never laid eyes on,” she said.