Senate Conservatives Push Back on New DOJ Sentencing Guidelines

Two Senate conservatives expressed their disapproval Friday after Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors to be tougher on crime, diverging from an Obama administration policy that shielded non-violent drug offenders from harsher mandatory minimum sentences.

The Justice Department memorandum orders prosecutors to pursue “the most serious, readily provable offense,” noting that the offenses “carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.” The memo rescinds a policy issued by the Obama administration in 2013.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of the the biggest GOP proponents for criminal justice reform, said mandatory minimum sentences “have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long.”

“Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice. Instead, we should treat our nation’s drug epidemic as a health crisis and less as a ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ problem,” Paul said in a statement Friday.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), one of Paul’s conservative partners in advocating for changes to the criminal justice system, also signaled his disapproval of Sessions’ directive.

“To be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue,” he wrote on Twitter, linking to a 2015 speech in which he spoke out against federal prosecutors imposing “punishments that did not fit the crime.”

There’s been bipartisan support in the Senate for an overhaul of federal sentencing guidelines, with Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in 2016 pushing a modified version of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The Judiciary panel advanced that measure in 2015 on a 15-5 vote.

A Judiciary Committee spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new administration policy or the status of the sentencing overhaul effort.

“This policy shift flies in the face of the growing bipartisan consensus that we need to reduce—not increase—the length of prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders,” Durbin said in a statement Friday.


Washington Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead

The Trump administration released its fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, which calls for $3.6 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. The plan takes aim at popular farm programs and student aid, and relies on clearing two major legislative hurdles – savings from the repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and projected economic growth from overhauling the U.S. tax code for the first time in more than 30 years.

Washington Brief: Montana GOP Candidate in Today’s Special Election Charged With Assaulting Journalist

Greg Gianforte, the GOP candidate in a special House election in Montana, was charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly assaulting a journalist who was asking him about the recent Congressional Budget Office estimate of the American Health Care Act. Gianforte faces Democrat Rob Quist in today’s election to fill the seat left vacant by Ryan Zinke, who now serves as head of the Interior Department.

Washington Brief: Trump Calls Naming of Special Counsel the ‘Greatest Witch Hunt of a Politician’ in U.S. History

Robert Mueller, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation director, was named special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee the FBI’s investigation into Russian connections to President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Trump responded on Twitter by saying the naming of a special counsel is “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Washington Brief: Chaffetz Demands FBI Turn Over All Records of Comey’s Meetings With Trump

A memo written in February by now-former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey says President Donald Trump urged him to abandon an FBI investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) demanded that the FBI turn over all documents related to meetings between Trump and Comey.

Load More