In 1994, President Bill Clinton, accompanied by the aggressive cheerleading of FLOTUS Hillary Clinton, signed the 1994 crime bill. It was classic Clinton: political rhetoric that sounded conservative but was, in reality, anything but. Do you remember “The era of big government is over”? Still waiting, aren’t you? In the case of the Clinton administration’s “tough on crime” efforts, this was cynical political triangulation designed to give House and Senate Democrats headed into a tough midterm reelection some political cover. The electorate was particularly grumpy, already revolting against HillaryCare, central planners like Ira Magaziner, and the prospects of socialized medicine.
Of course there was nothing constitutionally conservative about the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. It was a sweeping federal power grab, preempting state and local jurisdictions on many questions of criminal justice. Among many other onerous provisions, the bill imposed mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses and reclassified less serious crimes as felonies. I know because I was there, working as a Republican staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives. Every conservative in the House opposed the Democrats’ federal power grab, and 131 out of 177 Republicans voted “Nay.”