The following letter was sent to Governor Newsom earlier this week from a broad coalition of justice reform groups urging him to not appoint Adam Schiff as California’s next Attorney General.
An Open Letter to Governor Gavin Newsom:
Governor Newsom, we write to you in response to reports in the media that you are being lobbied to appoint Representative Adam Schiff as California’s next Attorney General. With this letter, we express our strong opposition to this appointment.
We are advocates for, and members of, communities who have been deeply impacted by the criminal legal system in California. We are also advocates for those who are without housing, for those who are immigrants, for those without health care, for those who want funding for schools, and for those who care deeply about climate change and climate justice.
When Adam Schiff was a member of the California legislature, he was not only supportive of, but deeply invested in, creating our current system of incarceration. This system of incarceration has continued to devastate communities of color and continues to take resources away from our schools, cities, and from all Californians in need.
Adam Schiff authored legislation to:
- Create the Department of Juvenile Justice (SB 483). While concerned about effective and efficient administration of these prisons for children, there is no indication Schiff was concerned about conditions in these prisons. This is a timeline of just some abuses that were ongoing after Schiff’s legislation.
- Allow law enforcement to get search warrants to enter private homes when a person made “loud noises” between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. (SB 1091)
- Create a new state felony, punishable by up to 4 years in state prison, for employers who hired people who were “unauthorized aliens.”(SB 1128)
- Allow alleged victims to attend juvenile hearings and to weigh in on an area well outside their purview: whether a minor was “unfit” for juvenile court and should be tried in an adult court. (SB 1195)
- Increase punishment for vandalism under $400 to up to 1 year of incarceration and impose steep fines. (SB 1229)
- Allowed children who were “truant” or “disobedient” (not a crime) who were wards of the court to be “ punished by being held in a secure facility during nonschool hours.” (SB 1279)
- Allow children 14 years or older accused of serious crimes to be tried as an adult at the sole discretion of the prosecutor, without a fitness hearing by a judge. (SB 1293)
- Make it easier for the District Attorney in Los Angeles County to prosecute minors. (SB 1311)
- Increase punishment for failure to register as a sex offender, but only for those who were homeless.(SB 882) Of note, our sex offender registries were and remain very broad, there was and is no evidence that they contributed to public safety and in fact, depleted law enforcement resources, who have called for them to be more narrowly-tailored.
- Expand the release of confidential information of children who were wards of the court. (SB 1058)
- Take power away from juries to make factual findings about priors, thus increasing the ease by which people could be sentenced to lengthy periods of incarceration while violating the rights of the accused under the Sixth Amendment. (SB 1146)
- Make it easier for the prosecution to admit an accused’s “confession” interrogation by law enforcement. (SB 1703). False confessions are a prime reason for wrongful convictions, a fact that was well known in 1998.
- Expand the power of a prosecutor to appeal an adverse determination by a court. (SB 1850)
- Massively expand the length of sentences by removing the 5-year sentencing cap for enhancements for non-violent offenses. (SB 1900)
- Expand the power of a juvenile court to issue orders preventing a parent, relative, or guardian of a child from visiting their own child and to terminate custodial rights (SB 2017). Given the incredible racial disparities in the juvenile system, the victims of this legislation were BIPOC families.
- Expand punishment for children who were wards of the court. (SB 2074)
- Impose increase registration requirements for those convicted of sex offenses, including employment information, and to require people who had to register to take mandatory polygraph examinations. (SB 2116)
- Allow people who were sentenced to wardships under the Youth Authority to be kept in custody after the age of 25 if the YA made a prediction to the low “probable cause” standard that the person could be dangerous as a result of “his or her mental or physical deficiency, disorder, or abnormality.” (SB 2187)
- Expand civil commitments for “sexually violent predators” when the crime was committed by a child 14 years of age and older. (SB 746)
- Expand the application of three strikes law and make it easier for prosecutors to obtain convictions. (SB 786)
- Open juvenile dependency hearings [dependency hearings involve custody matters, including parental rights and visitation] to the public and press. (SB 1391)
- Create a new felony punishment for “aggravated trespassing” (SB 1486). This bill exempted law enforcement officers who unlawfully entered the residence of another.
- Allow for the fingerprints of a minor who was only arrested to be entered into a Department of Justice database. (SB 1751)
- Increase funding for the COPS program to fund jail construction, and to expand law enforcement and District Attorneys offices. (SB 1936)
- Create “Juvenile Boot Camps” for children as young as 15 who committed offenses at school. (SB 1937)
- Make it easier to terminate parental rights for children who were wards of the court and put the burden on parents who changed residences to update the court of a change of mailing address. (SB 2043) This would have the greatest impact on poor parents and parents who were transient.
In his single term of four years, Adam Schiff made increased incarceration and punishment for poor parents the focus of his legislative agenda. He was not merely a “yes” vote on bad legislation; he was the author of so many bills that were aimed directly at poor people, Black people, and people of color. In 1996, when Schiff became a California Senator, our prisons had 140,000 people incarcerated, well over capacity. In 2000, by the time Schiff left, there were over 160,000 people incarcerated. At the same time, the number of unhoused people skyrocketed; schools were left unfunded and in disrepair; and people in our rural communities lack access to clean water.
One person alone is not responsible for California’s incarceration crisis. But Schiff stands out for his extreme punitiveness, particularly against children. Moreover, as a former federal prosecutor, Schiff knew exactly what the consequences of his actions would be; he cannot plead ignorance.
We know that many Democratic politicians in the 1990’s and 2000’s espoused a “tough on crime” platform. However, even President Biden, one such politician, campaigned on ending the federal death sentence and acknowledged that his prior tough on crime policies were a mistake.
In contrast, Schiff has continued to support legislation that would expand the size and scope of our system of incarceration, including voting recently to expand the federal death penalty, legislation that was part of a right wing narrative against Black Lives Matter and calls across the United States for police accountability.
- Schiff was one of just 48 Democrats to vote for The Thin Blue Line Act of 2017, (Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)), a bill that would expand the federal death penalty when a law enforcement officer is killed, despite there already being laws that allowed for this. This bill was strongly opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. This bill fed into a right-wing narrative against the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement for police accountability, suggesting that these racial justice groups were putting law enforcement lives in danger. The dog-whistle was heard by many.
- Schiff also voted for the “Protect and Serve Act” which would create a new crime for offenses that target law enforcement. Opponents and journalists noted this bill was entirely unnecessary as law enforcement officers already had substantial protections under both federal and state laws. It was another bill that advanced the racist narrative that Black Lives Matter and other people calling for simple accountability were engaged in a “war on police.” Opponents included racial justice and human rights
- Schiff introduced incredibly broad “anti-terrorism” legislation that would have authorized the Attorney General to prosecute a wide swath of activity intended to “influence government policy.” As a National Security expert pointed out, such legislation would have allowed Attorney General Barr to prosecute people accused of property damage in recent anti-racist protests.
This year, California’s criminal legal system, as you well know, will cost Californians $19.7 billion. Of that, $13.4 billion is for the prison system alone. These costs continue to deplete us of the resources needed to rebuild our communities, provide for housing and healthcare, and work to address climate change and environmental justice.
We need an Attorney General who will hold police officers and police departments accountable, not one who has spent his legislative career serving their interests. We are still dealing with the legacy of Adam Schiff in California. We urge you in the strongest possible terms not to appoint Adam Schiff to be California’s next Attorney General.
Finally, while our focus is on Representative Schiff because we are hearing reports in the media that those in power are lobbying for him, please do not take this as an acceptance of all other potential appointees. We ask you to appoint someone who has an understanding of the impact of policing and incarceration on people’s lives and on our communities. We urge you to gain our trust and support by appointing someone who has worked throughout their career to uplift the people of California, not someone who has used their power to punish Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, and poor Californians in a system marked by extreme racial and class disparities.
Co-founder, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles
Professor, Pan-African Studies, Cal State LA
Professor Jody D. Armour
Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law
University of Southern California School of Law
Executive Director, Justice Teams Network
Co-founder, Anti Police-Terror Project
Senior Staff Attorney, Pro Bono Immigrant Post-Conviction Relief Project
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation
Co-founder, White People 4 Black Lives
President, California Public Defenders Association
- Justice Teams Network
- Anti Police-Terror Project
- Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice
- California Families United for Justice
- Urban Peace Movement
- Ground Game LA
- Dignity and Power NOW
- SF Rising
- East Bay Resistance
- Los Angeles Community Action Network
- Pillars of the Community, San Diego
- Asian Solidarity Collective
- National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
- Oakland Rising
- Youth Justice Coalition
- Fair Chance Project
- Families United to End LWOP
- The Young Women’s Freedom Center
- Sunrise Movement Los Angeles
- Stop LAPD Spying Coalition
- Initiate Justice
- Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles Chapter
- White People 4 Black Lives
- People’s City Council
- SURJ, Showing Up for Racial Justice
- Homie UP
- Universidad Popular, People’s University
- Reform LA Jails
- Essie Justice Group
- Starting Over, Inc.
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice–California
- Courage California
- Immigrant Legal Resource Center
- Black Lives Matter, Long Beach