Kamala Harris's Brother-In-Law Helped Write 1994 Crime Bill

Harris blames Biden-backed bill for 'mass incarceration'

Sen. Kamala Harris / Getty Images
May 16, 2019

The 1994 crime bill Kamala Harris attacked on Wednesday was crafted by her brother-in-law.

Harris criticized the crime bill during a stop in New Hampshire as a way of criticizing former vice president Joe Biden. Harris said the bill contributed to "mass incarceration in our country," established the "federal three strikes law," and "funded the building of more prisons in the states."

Biden was the bill's lead sponsor in the Senate, but working on it in the Clinton administration was Harris's brother-in-law Tony West, who is married to Maya Harris, Kamala Harris's sister and her campaign chair. West, a former Obama administration official, also chaired Kamala Harris's transition team after she was elected to the Senate in 2016.

West chose to feature his work on the crime bill in 2012 when he was nominated to be associate attorney general. It was the chief achievement he listed for his two years working as a special assistant under former attorney general Janet Reno.

"From 1993 through 1994, I served as a Special Assistant in the U.S. Department of Justice," West wrote in his official questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Under the direction of U.S. Deputy Attorneys General Philip Heymann and Jamie Gorelick, as well as Attorney General Janet Reno, I worked on the development of national crime policy, including the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill."

The work was also featured in his biography when former attorney general Eric Holder hired him in 2009. "West worked on the development of national crime policy, including the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill," a DOJ press release stated.

West's current biography at Uber, where he is a senior vice president, makes no mention of the bill.

Biden defended the bill against critics who say it led to mass incarceration, saying the country's prison population is largely made up of state prisoners.

"Folks, let's get something straight: Ninety-two out of every 100 prisoners behind bars are in a state prison, not a federal prison," he said. "This idea that the crime bill created mass incarceration—it did not create mass incarceration."

Asked about Biden's defense of the bill, Harris took the opposite stance.

"I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Joe Biden, but I disagree with him," Harris said. "That crime bill—that 1994 crime bill—it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country. It encouraged and was the first time that we had a federal three strikes law. It funded the building of more prisons in the states. So, I disagree, sadly."

West did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Harris's comments and his work on the crime bill.