Represa CA - April 13: Razor wire tops a fence near the Short-Term Restricted Housing Unit at California State Prison, Sacramento. The unit is for prisoners in segregated or solitary confinement. The California legisature is considering another bill (AB 280) to restrict solitary confinement after a similar proposal died last year. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


California Assemblyman Speaks Out Against Race-Based Criminal Sentencing

California has received widespread attention over its consideration of a multi-billion dollar reparations package that could exceed the state’s annual budget. But a lesser-known plan to “rectify racial biases” threatens to change the way that the Golden State approaches criminal sentencing; by mandating that race is taken into account.

California Assembly Bill 852, which was introduced by Assemblyman and Reparations Task Force Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-57) , seeks to put race at the forefront of the criminal sentencing process by amending the penal code. The bill passed in the Assembly in May by a vote of 58 to 13, with nine abstentions.

The two concluding lines of the bill summary read “This bill would state the intent of the Legislature to rectify racial bias, as specified. The bill would require courts, whenever they have discretion to determine a sentence, to consider the disparate impact on historically disenfranchised and system-impacted populations.”

The bill itself is extremely short at just two sentences. “It is the intent of the Legislature to rectify the racial bias that has historically permeated our criminal justice system as documented by the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” AB 852 reads.

It further states “Whenever the court has discretion to determine the appropriate sentence according to relevant statutes and the sentencing rules of the Judicial Council, the court presiding over a criminal matter shall consider the disparate impact on historically disenfranchised and system-impacted populations.”

California Assemblyman Bill Essayli (R-63), who represents a district in the Inland Empire that spans from Riverside to Lake Elsinore, has been the bill’s most vocal opponent. “Lady justice is blind. Asking her to take off the blindfold to look at someone’s race I think is wrong, and I believe it is unconstitutional,” Essayli said in a speech on the floor of the California Assembly. “I do not believe that skin color should be considered in sentencing.”

Essayli doubled down on his criticisms of the legislation in an interview with The Daily Wire, stating “We have a word for this policy. It’s called racist. It’s a racist policy. It’s the strict definition of it,” also charging “it’s a reflection on where the Democratic Party is today.”

He went on to call the Democratic Party “out-of-touch” and “unAmerican,” highlighting a failed attempt from the left in 2020 to allow the government and public institutions to offer preferential treatment on the basis of race for employment, education, and contracting. The proposition was rejected by more than a 14-point margin.

But Essayli also warned that the bill will likely pass, remarking “I think it will pass the legislature, no matter how unconstitutional it is,” also asserting that “this legislature in California is so radicalized.” Essayli argued that “they will pass anything in the name of virtue signaling.”

“Because this bill is authored by someone who’s on this reparations task force, and they’ve made it all about racial equity and social justice, they will pass this bill,” he went on to say before predicting “It will likely get signed and it will be struck down as unconstitutional by a judge.”

Essayli condemned what he believes to be the Democratic Party’s disregard for the Constitution, charging “They claim to be the protectors of democracy. Meanwhile, they’re the ones who undermine democracy left and right.”

He also spoke to the consequences of “doubling down on this lie that … the system is racist against black people,” noting that it results in legislation like AB852 that argues “we have to let the judge take race into account at sentencing for the purposes of giving them a lower sentence.”

Essayli also shed light on an otherwise bewildering fact: the brevity of the two-sentence-long piece of legislation. “It’s written simply and short by design, because they present it … as a statement bill that doesn’t really do anything,” other than to acknowledge “the racial inequality in our criminal justice system.”

But the assemblyman, a former prosecutor, clarified that the bill would in fact change the penal code. “This tells judges that if they have discretion to oppose a particular sentence, they have to give a lower sentence to a black criminal defendant.” He noted that “This is policy, but it is packaged, designed, and sold as just a simple statement bill.”

The bill passed through the California Assembly and awaits consideration in the California Senate.

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