I'm happy to see this, but I wonder what the reaction will be in Washington:
In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration moved on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.Rand Paul responded:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association's annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, announced the new policy....
“I am encouraged that the President and Attorney General agree with me that mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders promote injustice and do not serve public safety,” Paul said in a statement.I found that quote in a BuzzFeed story with the headline "Bipartisan Support For Justice Department's New Drug Sentencing Reforms."
“The Administration’s involvement in this bipartisan issue is a welcome development. Now the hard work begins to change the law to permanently address this injustice,” he added.
But is there "bipartisan support"? Not in D.C., as far as I can tell. Oh, sure, as The New York Times notes, there's support for this at the state level, particularly in (surprise) red America:
Driven in part by a need to save money, several conservative-leaning states like Texas and Arkansas have experimented with finding ways to incarcerate fewer low-level drug offenders. The answers have included reducing prison terms for them or diverting them into treatment programs, releasing elderly or well-behaved inmates early, and expanding job training and re-entry programs.And as Ed Kilgore notes:
Long before Rand Paul drew national attention to his own support for sentencing reform, there was a quiet movement slowly but surely developing on the Right (which David Dagan and Steven Teles wrote about in the November/December 2012 issue of the Washington Monthly) in favor of calling off the madness of mandatory minimums. Just as importantly, this trend was being fed by various tributaries of the conservative stream, not just libertarians but conservative evangelicals and budget-conscious fiscal hawks. Just last week, in fact, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which probably contributed more to the spread of mandatory minimum legislation in the states than just about any other single source, reversed its position and endorsed sentencing reform.But in D.C., Rand Paul's Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 has a whopping three co-sponsors in the Senate -- two Democrats (Pat Leahy and Carl Levin) and independent Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats. The House version of the bill is co-sponsored by a Democrat (Bobby Scott of Virginia) and a Republican (Thomas Massie of Kentucky), but its other sponsors are ten Democrats. Both bills are stuck in committee.
So how is this going to play out? Is Holder's announcement going to spur Congress to action? Or are congressional Republicans going to stick with the "law and order" approach that's worked for them politically since the days of Nixon, and that's struck fear in the hearts of nervous Democrats all that time? Are the Republicans who've been warming to the idea of sentencing reform suddenly going to decide they're against sentencing reform now that the hated Obama administration, in the person of the hated Eric Holder, is pushing for reform? Is there going to be outrage at the administration's decision to do this using the power of the executive, which will blossom into anger at the idea of doing anything at all? Already Glenn Reynolds is writing, "I favor this policy. Not sure about implementing it via executive fiat," while National Review has this:
Congress, Not DOJ, Should Address Minimum SentencesUm, you Republicans could solve this by helping to pass a bill. But you won't, will you? You certainly won't now that the policy is associated with Holder. Will you?
... And as for those "draconian" minimum sentences, isn't this a matter for Congress to resolve? Isn't Mr. Holder's announced plan just the latest of this administration's many efforts to ignore the laws as they are written?
If the laws need to be changed then by all means change them, but do not pretend they don't exist or that you are not bound by them.