Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a vote to confirm William Barr as Attorney General. Barr was previously Attorney General under George H.W. Bush and has been a fierce advocate for mass incarceration and punitive drug policies. He has indicated support for the extrajudicial killing of drug traffickers, as well as harsh mandatory minimums that have fueled the country’s ongoing crisis of mass incarceration.
Despite remarkably strong bipartisan support for criminal justice reform – both in U.S. public opinion and in Congress – Barr opposes even modest reforms. In 2015, Barr signed a letter to then-Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid urging them not to bring up a sentencing reform bill: “Our system of justice is not broken. Mandatory minimums and proactive law enforcement measures have caused a dramatic reduction in crime over the past 25 years, an achievement we cannot afford to give back,” the letter read.
Barr’s daughter, Mary Daly, was tapped in February 2018 by Jeff Sessions to be the Justice Department’s point person on opioids. Daly supported rolling back Obama administration policies that encouraged more flexibility when it comes to low-level drug offenses.
In his confirmation hearings, Barr pledged that he would enforce the First Step Act, and appeared to take a softer line on marijuana than his predecessor. But he also announced his support for expanding penalties on synthetic drugs and encouraging DOJ prosecutors to seek the harshest penalties in drug cases.
Statement from Michael Collins, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance:
“Nothing in Barr’s confirmation hearings should make us think that he is anything other than a drug war zealot. He cannot be trusted on criminal justice reform, and has pledged to take a hard line on drugs at a time when we need a public health approach to stem the tide of overdose deaths. He is the wrong choice for this country at such a crucial time.”