Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-iowa, looks at Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., during a markup hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee as they prepare to vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday, July 20, 2010. Sen. Graham was the only republican to vote to approve Kagan’s nomination which passed 13-6. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Since the election of President Trump, Senator Chuck Grassley has emerged as a workhorse in a body stuffed to the rafters with show horses. The Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the Trump dossier and the collusion narrative has produced solid work without the fireworks of the House Intelligence Committee.
The bill would broaden judges’ ability to exercise discretion in sentencing non-violent offenses, narrow the scope mandatory minimum sentences to violent crimes and serious drug offenses, end juvenile life sentences without parole and create a National Criminal Justice Commission that would make additional reform recommendations. It would also allow compassionate release for elderly and terminally ill prisoners.
In a nod to popular passion, it increases the mandatory minimum for domestic violence (I have the same objection here that I have to hate crimes but whatever). Grassley has just gotten the bill out of committee and, to all reports, it faces tough sledding before the whole Senate.
I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that we imprison too many people for a lot of dumb reasons (in Maryland, you go to jail and lose your drivers license if you get too far behind on child support; figure that one out). And, on the flip side, technology has made it possible to check backgrounds of potential employees fairly easy and in the current legal environment you take a huge risk in hiring an ex-con. Small wonder at the high recidivism rate. In fact, it looks like merely being accused of a crime at some point in your past is more than ample grounds for making you unemployable.
Just as Grassley was basking in the warm, moist afterglow of moving his bill forward, his former colleague, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, harshed his mellow by releasing a scathing assessment of the bill. This is how it starts (read the whole letter):
Dear Mr. Chairman:
This letter presents the views of the Department ofJustice on S. 1917, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 201 S. 1917 presents issues of very great importance to the public safety of the United States and will impact a number of cases.
The legislation would reduce sentences for a highly dangerous cohort of criminals, including repeat dangerous drug traf?ckers and those who use firearms, and would apply retroactively to many dangerous felons. regardless of citizenship or immigration status. In my opinion, if passed in its current form, this legislation would be a grave error.
Grassley was not happy with the input, the method, and particularly what he saw as rank ingratitude:
“It’s Senator Sessions talking, not a person whose job it is to execute law, and quite frankly I’m very incensed,” he told POLITICO.
What Sessions’ letter “doesn’t recognize here,” Grassley added, “and why I’m incensed about it is, look at how hard it was for me to get him through committee in the United States Senate. And look at, when the president was going to fire him, I went to his defense.”
The Iowa Republican said “all kinds of” potentially polarizing Justice Department nominees who have proved “very difficult to get through the United States Senate” have also landed in his lap as chief of the influential Judiciary Committee.
“If he wanted to do this,” Grassley said of Sessions, “he should have done what people suggested to him before: resign from attorney general and run for the Senate in Alabama again. We’d have a Republican senator.”
Incensed by Sessions letter An attempt to undermine Grassley/Durbin/Lee BIPARTISAN criminal justice reforms This bill deserves thoughtful consideration b4 my cmte. AGs execute laws CONGRESS WRITES THEM!
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) February 14, 2018
I think this was a boneheaded move for Sessions, a guy who really needs every ally he can find. On the balance, while I like a lot of things Sessions has done, I find Sessions to be reflexively in favor of “let’s f*** with people.” His wading into the legal cannabis fray when there are clearly bigger issues on the table and his sickening support of civil forfeiture come to mind. If Sessions would focus on cleaning up the seething cesspool of apparent corruption in Justice and on reducing real crime, we’d all be better off.