Law Professor Goes In On Kamala Harris: She Was Not A Progressive Prosecutor

Written by Ann Brown

Kamala Harris recently announced her bid to run for president in 2020 and while many are impressed with her work in the Senate, critics are examining her record as California’s attorney general.

While the California senator has appeared to be an outspoken advocate for the “people,” she’s not a “progressive prosecutor,” wrote law professor Lara Bazelon, former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles, in a New York Times opinion column.

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“Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent,” Bazelon wrote. “Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.”

OAKLAND; CA – JAN 27: U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks to her supporters at the official launch rally for her campaign as a candidate for President of the United States in 2020 in front of Oakland City Hall at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza on January 27, 2019; in Oakland, California. Credit: Christopher Victorio/imageSPACE/MediaPunch /IPX

Bazelon implores voters to look at Harris’ record as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011. Harris was criticized in 2010 for withholding information about a police laboratory technician who had been accused of intentionally sabotaging her work and stealing drugs from the lab. A judge condemned Harris’s “indifference to the systematic violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights,” Bazelon pointed out.

Harris often stood up for law enforcement rather than the people, especially people of color, according to Bazelton. “Ms. Harris also championed state legislation under which parents whose children were found to be habitually truant in elementary school could be prosecuted, despite concerns that it would disproportionately affect low-income people of color.”

Harris also refused to support statewide standards regulating the use of body-worn cameras by police officers. Study after study has shown that body camera can protect citizens against police brutality.

One of the biggest criticisms against Harris related to Kevin Cooper, a death row inmate. Many observers said his trial was tainted by racism and corruption. He wanted advanced DNA testing to prove his innocence, but Harris opposed it. She reversed her position after a New York Times exposé of the case went viral.

All this is a shame because the California’s top prosecutor has the power and the imperative to seek justice. In cases of tainted convictions, that means conceding error and overturning them. Rather than fulfilling that obligation, Harris turned legal technicalities into weapons that cemented injustices, Bazelon noted.

Here’s how Bazelon summed up her opinion about Harris: “All too often, she was on the wrong side of that history.”

Harris could make good by radically breaking with her past and apologizing “to the wrongfully convicted people she has fought to keep in prison and to do what she can to make sure they get justice,” according to the opinion piece.

Harris’s office responded to the op-ed article with a statement by her
spokeswoman, Lily Adams:

“Kamala Harris has spent her career fighting for reforms in the criminal justice system and pushing the envelope to keep everyone safer by bringing fairness and accountability.”

Adams addressed the issues raised by Bazelon.

“Citing the criticism of the fact that Harris did not take a position in 2014 on Proposition 47, a reform of California’s three strikes law, Harris aides said her policy as attorney general was that she would not take a position on a ballot measure if she was responsible for writing the ballot language. She viewed it as a conflict of interest,” CNN reported.