Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Raphael Warnock, her Democratic opponent in the critical Georgia U.S. Senate runoff, launched broadsides against each other over their stances on cash bail Tuesday evening, bringing back social justice and law-and-order themes that were at the center of the presidential campaign earlier this summer and fall.
Warnock backed a 2018 Atlanta ordinance to end cash bail for low-level crimes before the Democratic Party took up an end to cash bail as a plank on its platform for the first time in 2020. President-elect Joe Biden, during the campaign, also supported ending cash bail. Cash bail is a practice that requires people who are arrested to put up a certain amount of money essentially as collateral to ensure that they will appear at their court dates.
Opponents of the practice, like Warnock, say cash bail is unfair to poor people who may not be able to pay their bail and would be locked up despite the fact they are innocent until proven guilty, while the wealthy will be able to secure their release ahead of trial. Those who support the practice say that cash bail helps keep the justice system working by ensuring people actually appear in court after they are released.
“.@ReverendWarnock wants to END cash bail. In other words — he would release violent criminals right back onto our streets,” Loeffler, R-Ga., tweeted Tuesday despite the fact the ordinance Warnock supported in Atlanta did not eliminate cash bail for felonies and other violent crimes. “This is on top of calling police officers ‘thugs’ & ‘gangsters.’ His radical agenda would endanger Georgia families.”
Loeffler also framed the race against Warnock as a “choice between law & order and defunding the police,” echoing rhetoric used throughout the summer and fall by President Trump against Biden.
Warnock shot back, accusing the incumbent of disregard for poor people.
“Atlanta changed their cash bail system so those facing nonviolent misdemeanors wouldn’t sit in jail for months without even being convicted of a crime,” the Democrat said in a tweet. “Kelly Loeffler, the wealthiest member of Congress, wants to keep them locked up because she thinks poverty is a crime.”
One of the first priorities of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, when she assumed office in 2018, was to eliminate cash bail for low-level offenders. Warnock, as the city council was considering the change, was a vocal supporter of the ordinance.
“A letter went out to the council members from an attorney representing the bondsman association reminding them that this system is as old as the country, as if that supports the rightness of the situation,” Warnock said to the Atlanta City Council as it was considering the bail reform ordinance. “Slavery is as old as this country, and it is as wrong as it is old. And so I stand to say that I support this new ordinance. We ought to end money bail. We ought to end wealth-based detention.”
He added: “I’m hearing a lot of arguments today that are the opposite of what our Constitution represents. In the United States of America, at least on paper, you are innocent until proven guilty… The ability to pay your bond may only mean that you have a thriving drug business… We ought to stop separating people from their families just because they’re poor.”
But after it was implemented, the Atlanta ordinance was not without controversy. In mid-2018, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported an approximately 100% spike in people failing to appear for their court dates, which is the scenario cash bail is meant to prevent. The paper reported that it was not clear exactly how many of the failure-to-appear cases were because of the new city ordinance.
City Councilman Julian Bond, according to the AJC, called the policy a “get out of jail free card.” Warnock, meanwhile, advocated for the ordinance to remain in place.
“We ought to call cash bail what [it] is: wealth-based detention,” Warnock said at the time, according to the AJC. “Atlanta ought to be leading the way. Leave the ordinance in place.”
Efforts to end cash bail also grabbed headlines in 2020 after New York state changed its law to get rid of cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. Amid stories earlier this year of people being arrested, then being released and almost immediately being arrested again, the New York Police Department said in a press release that “[c]riminal justice reforms serve as a significant reason New York City has seen this uptick in crime.”
“I will ALWAYS back the blue — and I know that ending cash bail is as dangerous as it gets,” Loeffler said in one of her Tuesday tweets.
In a statement to Fox News on Tuesday, Warnock’s campaign said the attacks from Loeffler are “an effort to mislead Georgians about what Reverend Warnock stands for” and re-emphasized his support for ending cash bail.
“People facing nonviolent misdemeanor charges who have not been convicted of a crime should not remain in jail simply because they can’t afford bail,” Terrance Clark, a Warnock spokesman, said.