Former U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Illinois
“The system is circular, escalating, and self-defeating.”
Thomas (Tom) Sullivan served as United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. One of his many achievements during that time included initiating Operation Greylord, an investigation of corruption in Cook County courts. He was co-chair of Illinois Governor George H. Ryan’s Commission on Capital Punishment from 2000 until it completed its work in 2002. He is now a senior partner at Jenner & Block, LLP.
Over his more than half a century practicing law in Chicago, Tom has learned and directly observed that the ill-conceived and ineffective U.S. drug laws have resulted in heightened profitability of the drug trade and a widespread increase in violence in the United States and elsewhere. “The system is circular, escalating, and self-defeating,” Tom says. “We spend huge amounts of money on unsuccessful efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs into this country. Meanwhile, competition for dominance in the trade has made many of our own communities dangerous.”
For Tom, the solution lies in an end to prohibition. “The result of these laws appears a pathetic replay of our failed experiment with alcohol prohibition. I believe it inevitable that this harmful cycle will continue until we are rid of laws that criminalize the sale and possession of drugs, and treat drugs as we do alcohol.”
Tom joined LEAP’s advisory board in 2011 after being introduced to LEAP by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. He has received numerous awards including the Justice John Paul Stevens Award (2000), the American Bar Association Section of Litigation John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award (2003), the Center on Wrongful Convictions Award (2003), the Albert E. Jenner, Jr. Award for exceptional legal services to the needy (2003), and the American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.