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May 30, 2018
Disconcerting update on Senate's (lack of) progress on federal statutory criminal justice reforms
The Hill this morning has this extended article under the headline "Senate grapples with prison reform bill." The piece reinforces my fear that criminal justice reform efforts are on the brink of stalling in the upper chamber of Congress. Here are excerpts:
Senate negotiators are warning they are not close to a deal that would allow the prison reform bill to move quickly.
Instead, the fight is pitting two influential GOP senators — Cornyn and Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the Judiciary Committee chairman — against each other as they jockey for competing bills. “We’ve got work to do here on building consensus … but right now we don’t have it,” Cornyn said last week about what happens to prison reform in the Senate.
The GOP divisions could scuttle any chance that the Trump-backed legislation becomes law this year, with leadership unlikely to bring up legislation that would highlight divisions within their own party ahead of the midterm elections. Both Cornyn and Grassley are signaling they plan to press forward with trying to build support for their own separate bills once the Senate returns to Washington, D.C., next week.
Asked if he would budge on his opposition to a prison reform–only bill, Grassley responded, “No.” “We’re going to take up my bill. Or I should say, my bipartisan bill that’s got 28 co-sponsors — equal number Republicans and Democrats.... What the House does through that legislation is about the equivalent of a spit in the ocean compared to what the problem is of too much imprisonment,” Grassley added.
Grassley and Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat, have introduced broad criminal justice reform legislation that would pair prison reforms to changes in sentencing, including reductions in mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses while increasing mandatory minimums for other offenses. Both senators say they’ve made a deal not to separate the prison and sentencing reform components despite pressure from the White House. But that bill is unlikely to be taken up given GOP control of Congress and opposition from key members of the Trump administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was an outspoken opponent of the criminal justice reform bill when he served in the Senate.
Grassley acknowledged that he has not convinced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the criminal justice reform bill to the floor. “You’ve got to remember that McConnell doesn’t like the bill, and all I can say is that you ought to let a Republican president who needs a big, bipartisan victory have a bipartisan victory,” he said.
The Kentucky Republican did not move criminal justice reform legislation in 2015 or 2016 amid vocal pushback from four GOP senators. The then-Obama administration supported the bill, and senators in both parties said they had 60 votes to pass it. Supporters of the narrower prison reform–only legislation are seizing on the opposition from key Republicans and the Trump administration as they push for their bill....
Cornyn added that the decision boils down to either passing prison reform or accepting that Congress will take no action for the foreseeable future in the criminal justice space. But it’s unclear if McConnell would be willing to move a bill without Grassley’s support....
And on Capitol Hill, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), one of Trump’s closest allies in the Senate, is privately raising concerns about the bill. A spokeswoman for the senator said Cotton has “concerns with provisions in the bill pertaining to lenient treatment for heroin and fentanyl traffickers.” Cotton, Sessions and GOP Sens. David Perdue (Ga.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) were a small but vocal group of Republicans senators deeply opposed to broader criminal justice legislation that included both prison reform and changes to mandatory minimum sentencing.
Cornyn acknowledged that he has spoken to Cotton about trying to address his issues with the prison reform bill. “I’ve told him we’re going to work with him and come up with something that I think he’ll be able to support,” Cornyn said, “but he did express some concerns.”
Some of many prior related posts:
- House Judiciary Committee approves FIRST STEP Act by a vote of 25-5 after lots of discussion of amendments
- FIRST STEP Act passes US House of Representatives by vote of 360-59(!), but its fate in Senate remains uncertain
- Mapping out the politics for the path forward for federal prison (and sentencing?) reform
- A fittingly depressing account of the current state and potential fate of federal statutory criminal justice reform
- Interesting new US Sentencing Commission analysis of possible impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017
- On eve of House Committee consideration, distinct advice from criminal justice reform groups on latest federal prison reform proposal
- Five prominent congressional Democrats write in opposition to federal statutory prison reform without broader sentencing reform
- The latest political back and forth, on both sides of the aisle, as federal prison reform efforts gain momentum
- Prez Trump pledges to sign prison reform that will be "best in the world"
- "President Trump supports prison reform"
- On eve of planned House vote on FIRST STEP Act, NY Times editorial misguidedly asserts a "partial bill could end up being worse than nothing"
- An (encouraging?) update on the state of federal criminal justice reform in US Senate
May 30, 2018 at 11:17 AM | Permalink