Few issues pique the bipartisan interests of legislators on Capitol Hill, but the forced passage of a reckless criminal justice “reform” act in Washington, D.C., should be one of them. The Revised Criminal Code Act takes such a profound step backward in the interests of public safety that even D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser — herself a proud progressive — vetoed the legislation before it was nearly unanimously overridden by the D.C. city council on Jan. 17. Fortunately for citizens and visitors to the nation’s capital, Congress has the authority to right this impending wrong and reject the implementation of the act.
This act seeks to effectuate a veritable wish list of progressive criminal justice reforms. These reforms include reducing penalties and accountability for criminal perpetrators, including those who commit violent felonies like carjacking and robbery, eliminating “three-strikes” provisions, and ending nearly all mandatory-minimum sentencing. However, these “reforms,” which will take effect in 2025, will not reduce crime or make D.C. safer, as evidenced by the failed implementation of similar progressive criminal justice policies in other American cities.
Amid a several-year period of rising crime rates, not just in D.C., but in cities throughout the nation, choosing to pursue a soft-on-crime, criminal-first/victim-last approach to public safety is not only irresponsible — it’s reckless. Bowser acknowledged this reality earlier this month in the lead-up to her formal veto. “Anytime there’s a policy that reduces penalties, I think that sends the wrong message,” Bowser said. “That takes the focus off using guns or possessing guns, and I think that’s the wrong way to go.”
Despite the mayor’s considered objection, the city council believed that passing this policy was the best course of action for D.C. For most city governments, final passage of legislation ends the story — but D.C. is different.
Because of Washington, D.C.’s unique status as the nation’s federal district, acts passed by the city’s government are subject to congressional review by both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate. This review period lasts between 30 and 60 days, depending on the nature of the act. As the D.C. city council’s website explains, “During this period of congressional review, the Congress may enact into law a joint resolution disapproving the Council’s Act. If, during the review period, the President of the United States approves the joint resolution, the Council’s Act is prevented from becoming law.”
Members of Congress have a sacred responsibility: to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” as outlined in the preamble of the Constitution. While Congress aims to do this for the nation as a whole, it has limited authority to directly influence criminal justice or public safety policy in the states, which are outside of their federal purview. Because D.C. is a federal district, however, Congress not only has the authority but the responsibility to prevent the implementation of the D.C. city council’s latest misguided “reforms.” In other words, Congress should kill this law because it is in public interest to do so. If that is insufficient motivation, members of Congress who live part of the year in D.C. should prevent the act’s implementation because it is in their self-interest to navigate their own neighborhoods in peace, free from the predations of an emboldened criminal class. If this cannot inspire bipartisan agreement, perhaps nothing can.
Scott G. Erickson, a former police officer and senior official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, currently serves as the Director of the Center for Law and Justice at the America First Policy Institute