How Issues of Injustice Influenced My Presidential Pick

Back in February, I said that on my blog, I would publish posts on major issues relevant to the election that are either misunderstood or not talked about as much as they should be.

By working on such posts, I found myself getting some insights into the upcoming election for President of the United States that I would otherwise not have. Because of those insights, as well as the fact that my blog talks about injustices that need to be addressed, I thought I would end these posts by talking about who I will vote for and why.[1]

I’m voting for Joe Biden because, of all the candidates in the race, I think he gives the best shot at playing a role in addressing injustices. His past track record,[2] while imperfect, gives me that belief.[3]

On the issue of ableism and disability justice, Biden cosponsored some important legislation on this issue. He was a Senate cosponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act,[4] which was landmark legislation for people with disabilities. Earlier in his Senate career, he cosponsored the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which required equal educational access in all public schools for kids with physical and mental disabilities.[5] While there is still much to do to make all corners of our country as accessible as they need to be, the passage of these laws, which was made a bit easier by Biden’s support and cosponsorship in both cases, was nevertheless useful. His support of such legislation gives me hope that with disability rights issues, he would reject the argument that something is “too expensive” or “too impractical” to be made accessible—arguments I often hear against making certain things accessible.

Those who are familiar with human trafficking issues would know that arguably the most important piece of American legislation when it comes to anti-human trafficking laws is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)—without its existence, traffickers couldn’t be prosecuted as easily, and victims wouldn’t be protected as easily.[6] The person who introduced the reauthorization of the Act in the Senate in 2008 was…Joe Biden.[7] As someone who used to help with anti-human trafficking education myself,[8] I think it’s important for me to set the record straight on this issue because it has only come up in this election in the context of a sex trafficking conspiracy theory[9] (one that Trump has praised the supporters of[10]) that has complicated the work of organizations that are trying to combat human trafficking.[11]

Speaking of Biden authoring things, while his authorship of the 1994 Crime Bill was controversial in many ways, one major positive of that overarching bill was the Violence Against Women Act, which among other things helped establish a Domestic Violence Hotline.[12] A hotline that has come of great use during the pandemic[13] exists in large part due to Biden’s efforts.

On environmental issues, Biden, while not perfect[14], is still eons better than Trump. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has a scorecard that grades politicians based on which environmental measures they do or do not support, as well as which environmental regulatory rollbacks they do and do not support. Biden’s lifetime score is 83%,[15] which is not as good as the 91%[16] held by Bernie Sanders or the 96% held by Elizabeth Warren.[17] But, his main opponent is Trump, who in LCV’s own words, said about Trump’s environmental grade in his first year in office that: “However, to simply award Trump an ‘F’ does not come close to capturing both the breadth and depth of his administration’s assault on environmental protections and the harm it is causing communities across the country – all to provide favors to the wealthiest corporate polluting interests.”[18]

These are some of the positive things on Joe Biden’s record, and I’m not even coming close to mentioning all the positive things (just a few that should be highlighted). However, as I said, his record is not perfect. I mentioned his Crime Bill on my blog,[19] which is part of a larger dubious record he has when it comes to racial justice issues;[20] there’s also the fact that he supported restrictions that prevented openly gay individuals from serving in the military, supported the Defense of Marriage Act (restricting marriage so that it’s between one man and one woman),[21] and poorly handled the Anita Hill hearing,[22] to name a few of the more problematic parts of his record. A charitable view of Biden’s record is that when someone is in public service for nearly five decades, there are bound to be some major mistakes within that record. A less charitable view would look at his record as evidence of his being a person who would add to injustices, instead of resolving them.

I tend to take a line down the middle—yes, he’s been in public service for a long time, but he does have some injustices to answer to. He has answered by expressing regret for how he handled the Anita Hill situation as well as for past anti-LGBTQ+ positions and the Crime Bill.

More cynical individuals may think that such expressions of regret are just for political expediency and/or are woefully inadequate; I most certainly understand the cynicism because politics can be so cynical at times. However, unlike President Trump, Biden has demonstrated the capacity to not just apologize but back it up with actions to show that he has learned from past mistakes. Of note was the fact that not only did he end up regretting his past positions that were unsupportive of LGBTQ+ rights, but he backed it up by: a) supporting same-sex marriage and b) forcing President Obama’s hand on support of same-sex marriage (by the admission of Obama administration officials).[23] On a number of issues, but particularly racial justice, I sincerely hope that Biden demonstrates a similar capacity to back up his remorse for certain past stances of his (such as authoring the Crime Bill) with action (such as trying to find solutions to the issue of mass incarceration against people of color that many believe he helped create).

Even with the positives I found with Biden, some may be wondering why I’m not suggesting voting for a third party or not voting at all. Especially since I live in New York, some might argue that I could do either without having an impact on the election.

The answer is that I am voting third party, as I will be voting for Biden on the Working Families Party line (a third party that exists in some states, including New York). I think that it is important for me to vote for Biden and I think it is important for third parties to have a voice as well—by voting for Biden on the Working Families Party line, it’s the best of both worlds as far as I am concerned.

I also never considered not voting. I never considered that for two reasons: first, because I was able to distinguish key differences between Trump and Biden on issues that matter to me; and second, because I want my voice to be heard on local elections too (even though all my seats locally are heavily Democratic overall).

So there’s my breakdown of how I judged between the two major party candidates, and how I decided to vote for Biden. While I’m not as enthusiastic about Biden as some people are, I’ve concluded that it’s the best choice out of all the choices presented to me in this election from the standpoint of addressing injustices. And, given the fact that Biden seems more willing than Trump to follow the science when it comes to COVID, it’s a choice that I hope will save some lives.

I will be interested to hear others’ thoughts on the election, though! Feel free to comment below.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this post are my opinions alone and does not represent an endorsement by any organization with which I am associated.


[1] I know many people have already voted. But this post is directed at those who have not already voted (or those who have but are curious to hear what I have to say).

[2] I am focusing on his past track record because I think looking at a track record of nearly five decades can be instructive in determining what sorts of issues he may stand for in the next 4-8 years—potentially even more instructive than looking at his platform.

[3] I am not going to use tons of space in this post talking about Trump. There are lots of posts on the internet talking about Trump’s negatives. Instead, I’m going to use space here to talk about some positive elements of Biden’s record, because it’s important not just to vote against someone, but for someone.

[4] https://www.congress.gov/bill/101st-congress/senate-bill/933/cosponsors?searchResultViewType=expanded

[5] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/94/s6/summary

[6] https://www.justice.gov/humantrafficking/key-legislation

[7] It looks like the House version of the bill was the one that ultimately passed, if I am reading congress.gov correctly. Still, that does not take away from the fact that Biden introduced the 2008 reauthorization of this bill in the Senate: https://www.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/senate-bill/3061/actions

[8] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2017/12/19/slavery-exists-here/

[9] https://apnews.com/article/535e145ee67dd757660157be39d05d3f

[10] https://apnews.com/article/535e145ee67dd757660157be39d05d3f

[11] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/10/20/qanon-misinformation-derails-arizona-anti-trafficking-organizations/5993150002/

[12] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/02/03/what-is-the-1994-crime-bill-and-why-is-it-so-controversial/

[13] https://www.thehotline.org/resources/a-snapshot-of-domestic-violence-during-covid-19/

[14] The most recent example of Biden’s imperfection on environmental issues is his tepid language when it comes to the future of fossil fuels. Biden has actually tried to backtrack from comments he made at the most recent debate about transitioning away from oil: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/biden-campaign-seeks-clarify-position-fossil-fuels-debate/story?id=73789793

[15] https://scorecard.lcv.org/moc/joe-biden

[16] https://scorecard.lcv.org/moc/bernie-sanders

[17] https://scorecard.lcv.org/moc/elizabeth-warren

[18] https://www.lcv.org/trumpyearone/

[19] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/02/03/what-is-the-1994-crime-bill-and-why-is-it-so-controversial/

[20] NPR talked about said record in one of its pieces: https://www.npr.org/2020/10/14/920385802/biden-vows-to-ease-racial-divisions-heres-his-record

[21] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-biden/bidens-lgbtq-record-draws-scrutiny-at-iowa-presidential-forum-idUSKBN1W603A

[22] Hill alleged that then-Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. Biden, who was then Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time Thomas was going through the nomination process, was criticized for his handling of Hill’s allegations against Thomas. Read this USA Today article for more details on what happened: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/09/06/anita-hill-endorses-joe-biden/5735556002/

[23] https://www.politico.com/story/2012/05/obama-expected-to-speak-on-gay-marriage-076103

What is the 1994 Crime Bill, and Why is it So Controversial?

Many of the readers who have listened to some of the debates between candidates for President of the United States may be aware of a line of attack often used against former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders: “You voted for the 1994 crime bill.”

It’s a line used when the candidates on stage, all of whom are trying to become the presidential nominee from the Democratic Party, are trying to distinguish themselves from Senator Sanders and former Vice President Biden on the issue of criminal justice. It is especially important for other candidates to distinguish themselves from those two candidates because Senator Sanders and former Vice President Biden are viewed as frontrunners for the Democratic Party nomination. It is also a line that the other candidates use to try and convince their voters that they, not Senator Sanders or former Vice President Biden, should be trusted on the issue of criminal justice.

Which begs the question: What is the 1994 crime bill, and why is it so controversial? With the first caucus of the election year happening in Iowa tonight, answers to these questions are important.

The tricky thing about summarizing the 1994 crime bill is that the piece of legislation tried to address many issues, ranging from funding for police to gun control to domestic violence. The short story is that the 1994 crime bill, whose proper name is actually the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, was supposed to focus on enforcement of and prevention of violent crimes, though it did some things beyond that scope (a couple of which I will talk about later in this post). For a detailed summary of the 1994 crime bill, view the bill’s summary here.

As one might expect with a bill trying to deal with a wide range of issues, the reality of how “good” or “bad” it was is actually more complicated than many candidates might make it out to be.

In spite of that fact, there are, undoubtedly, parts of the bill that should make one question Biden and Sanders on criminal justice (since they both supported the act and Biden helped write it[1]). For example:

  • The bill “stripped all Pell Grant funding for college education for prisoners.”[2] This sort of action counters the narrative among many (especially on the left) that incarceration should have a restorative element, that it should not just be about punishing someone for their actions, but that they also can be able to work towards being productive contributors to society when/if they leave prison.
  • The bill provided $6 billion (in 1994 dollars) in funding “for prevention programs which were designed with significant input from experienced police officers”[3]—money that was, from all accounts, spent on punitive measures for the most part. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea to let people with experience in law enforcement be able to have a say in how to prevent violent crime. The problem? As it turned out, that money was predominantly used for punitive measures[4]—measures that would go against the ideal among many Democrats that there should be a restorative element to time in prison.
  • The 1994 crime bill is blamed for being a factor in a drastic increase in incarceration in the United States.[5] The extent to which the current mass incarceration issues should be attributed to the 1994 crime bill is up for debate, especially since the increase in mass incarceration was already beginning to happen, but there seems to be significant agreement from criminal justice scholars that the bill made this problem worse.

However, there were also some aspects of the 1994 crime bill that are either popular with progressives or popular on a bipartisan basis. Three of those aspects are as follows:

  • There was considerable gun control in the 1994 crime bill. According to the bill’s summary, the bill, “Bans the manufacture of 19 military-style assault weapons, assault weapons with specific combat features, “copy-cat” models, and certain high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than ten rounds.”[6] While one could debate the effectiveness of this form of gun control, the fact is that gun control tends to be a major aspect of most candidates’ platforms on the Democratic side, and that therefore the 1994 crime bill did much of what a lot of Democrats want on guns (including Democrats critical of Biden and Sanders for their support of the 1994 crime bill).
  • One of the most popular aspects of the 1994 crime bill was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA, which was within the 1994 crime bill, added measures to better hold perpetrators of domestic violence accountable.[7] For example, before the 1994 crime bill, “domestic abusers could cross state lines to avoid prosecution for beating their spouses, as law enforcement was not to required to listen to orders of protection filed in other states” (something that, from my understanding, was not possible after the act passed).[8]
  • VAWA, which as I said was under the 1994 crime bill, also created the National Domestic Violence Hotline.[9] Before finding out that this hotline was established so recently, I have to admit to taking the existence of this hotline for granted; however, the fact is that the hotline is younger than I am (I’m twenty-five) and was only established thanks to the 1994 crime bill.

So, while it might make for a good debate line to be critical of Biden’s or Sanders’ support of the 1994 crime bill, the reality is somewhat complicated. Some aspects of it, such as the generally more punitive approach to crime as a result of the bill, have been quite controversial and even problematic. Other aspects, such as the creation of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, are quite important. Regardless, it’s important to recognize both the good and the bad in the 1994 crime bill (as well as Biden’s and Sanders’ support of it), because otherwise, we’d be doing an injustice to ourselves and to others when evaluating the platforms these candidates have on criminal justice.


[1] https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/15/politics/joe-biden-1994-crime-bill-incarceration-fact-check/index.html

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36020717

[3] https://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/billfs.txt

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36020717

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/billfs.txt. I should note that this provision of the bill expired in 2004: https://www.npr.org/2019/08/13/750656174/the-u-s-once-had-a-ban-on-assault-weapons-why-did-it-expire

[7] https://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/billfs.txt

[8] https://time.com/5675029/violence-against-women-act-history-biden/

[9] https://www.vera.org/justice-in-focus-crime-bill-20/confronting-violence-against-women