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March 8, 2016
Quick (inside-the-Beltway) reflections on the latest odds of those inside-the-Beltway getting federal sentencing reform done in 2016
As I briefly mentioned in a prior post, yesterday and today I have been attending and participating in the Alternative Sentencing Key-Stakeholder Summit (ASKS) taking place at the Georgetown University Law Center. In addition to being greatly impressed by all the speakers and attendees, I have particularly benefitted from hearing this afternoon directly from Senator Charles Grassley and other key players involved in federal sentencing reforms efforts. After hearing these folks discuss their work and the possibility of enactment of federal sentencing reform this year, I wanted to share some (too quick) reflections in the form of good news and bad news:
Good News regarding prospects for reforms making it through Congress: Senator Grassley is clearly interested in and now seems quite committed to getting some form of federal sentencing reform through Congress this year. He stated that work is afoot to modify his Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act to respond to concerns expressed by Senators Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz and others. This Reuters report on Senator Grassley's short speech provides the details, and here are the basics:
U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley said on Tuesday that amendments to a bill to lower sentences for certain non-violent drug offenders are close to being finished. Grassley said the amendments, which go further to ensure violent offenders are not released, will build more support for the bill among Republican leadership in the Senate, which will decide whether to bring the bill up for a vote.
"We are very close to making some changes in this bill so we can get it brought before the United States Senate," Grassley said.... Grassley called Cotton's concerns "legitimate and reasonable" when speaking at Georgetown University Law School on Tuesday.
Though he did not provide specifics on the amendments, Grassley did say his team of legislators may have to drop parts of the bill that would have allowed offenders caught with firearms in their possession to have their sentences lowered. "We may have to jettison some changes in the firearm offenses and we may be able to do a better job to make sure that no one with a serious history of violence can get any relief under the bill," Grassley said....
"I'm confident that with the changes that we're making in the bill that we'll get even more support for our bill," Grassley said. "And with more support, I'm confident that we will be able to go to the leaders in the Senate and persuade them that this bill is exactly what the American people need to see happen in the United States Senate."
As this last quote hints, Senator Grassley also spoke about all the complaints he receives back in Iowa and elsewhere about leaders in DC spending all their time fighting over politics and not getting anything actually done. Senator Grassley's comments have me now thinking that he and other GOP members of the Senate are likely to stress bipartisan work on sentencing reform when attacked by Democrats and others for "not doing anything" in response to the coming SCOTUS nomination or on other priorities. And work on sentencing reform will not seem all that meaningful if a bill does not come to the floor of the Senate at some point.
Bad News regarding prospects for reforms making it through Congress: Though not mentioned by Senator Grassley, getting a bill to the Senate floor and passed with a majority vote is only half the battle, of course. The House of Represenatives also needs to pass a parallel bill, and there are continuing reasons to fear that the House will not move forward on sentencing reform bills unless and until mens rea reform is a part of the equation. I am not sure concerns about mens rea reforms will alone scuttle reforms in Congress, but it already seems to have slowed the momentum for reform in various ways. And every day that goes by without the legislative process moving forward tangibly is yet another day lost before the congressional election season gets into full swing when members of Congress start focusing more on November voting dynamics rather than whether they get anything done on a complicated policy issue that involves lots of compromises and intricacies.
Speaking of compromises and intricacies (as well as the coming election season), there may end up being some significant voices on the left that jump off the reform train after Senator Grassley makes his already modest Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act even more modest. The original SRCA was so modest that some significant advocates for reform, including elected officials and policy groups, have already express serious concern that it does not mearly go far enough. We likely will hear more of these complaints after we see the modified SRCA, and that in turn may lead advocates on both sides of the aisle to be content to wait and hope that their preferred candidates win in November and then to try again in 2017.
A few prior related posts:
- Politico reporting that (minor?) changes are being made to Senate's SRCA bill to appease GOP critics
- Mark Holden, GC at Koch Industries, makes "The Factual Case for Criminal Justice Reform"
- Former AG Mukasey delivers "clear" message to GOP on SRCA: "Law enforcement asks you to pass this bill."
- Is the Supreme Court fight already starting to "doom" federal statutory sentencing reform?
March 8, 2016 at 03:59 PM | Permalink
Its clear to me that the bill will not gonas far as it should. But we need to rake in what we can get, then keep working forward.
It does corn me with the wording violent criminal history. Congress and Senators gave no clue what is violence and how to define it. As evidenced by the residual clause.
Ok, enough if that... Mens Rea.....how about digging up Judge McConnels dissent for Owi in the Begay case. He did a good job in relating it to owi.
But, I have missed the mark Yes, its the definition of Mens Rea. I think Inwould use McConnel, ( is this the mans name, I hope so ) as a warmup refresher. Then review the current issue with it, then reach out to people like the Ussc, and other Federal Judges that want to reform the guidelines. If a person was connected and took an interest, I think in 2 weeks, one could have a good base to present. Then maybe the senate will move forward with reform.
Doug, your spot on about each counts, as we are marching closer to the election, that will shut down all efforts. At least for quite a spell.
Posted by: MidWestGuy | Mar 8, 2016 8:16:23 PM