Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a likely Democratic contender for the 2020 presidential nomination, pushed back on attorney general nominee William Barr’s statements about race and the criminal justice system at a Senate hearing Tuesday.
Barr has argued in the past that “there’s no statistical evidence of racism in the criminal justice system,” according to comments cited by Booker. The senator pressed Barr on the point, detailing evidence of exactly such a bias.
Barr responded by noting that there’s “no doubt” there’s “racism in the system,” while adding that he found that it’s “working” overall.
As Vox’s German Lopez writes, Barr was an architect of many policies that have since led to the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans. The exchange revealed that the attorney general nominee sees racism as a peripheral issue within the criminal justice system rather than Booker’s view of it as a problem that’s entrenched in the system itself.
Booker highlighted that Barr has pushed for hardline criminal justice policies in the past, including signing off on a report making the “Case for More Incarceration,” although he now claims to back reforms that would slightly reduce incarceration rates.
Barr has questioned racial disparities in the criminal justice system in the past. Booker called him out.
As Booker notes, Barr has previously suggested that black and white Americans charged with the same offense are treated the same way by the criminal justice system, a claim countless studies have simply shown to be untrue. Black offenders are more likely to receive longer sentences, more likely to receive higher bail, and more likely to have their probation revoked, according to a range of different analyses.
Booker repeatedly pointed out this discrepancy, and ultimately pressed Barr to commit to a study on these disparities, noting that he’s personally experienced biased treatment by the justice system, even as Barr touted the gains he made in the 1990s. “I was a young black guy in 1990s,” said Booker. “I was a 20-something-year-old and experienced a dramatically different justice system in the treatment I received.”
At the end of their back-and-forth, Barr maintained that higher incarceration rates led to a reduction in crime that’s benefitted black Americans, but said that heavy drug penalties have “harmed the black community.”
Read their exchange, below: