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February 12, 2008

Gearing up for today's Senate crack hearing

All the usual suspects have useful information on their website in anticipation of today's afternoon Senate hearing on "Federal Cocaine Sentencing Laws: Reforming the 100-to-1 Crack/Powder Disparity."  The Sentencing Project has this new webpage with links, and FAMM has this page analyzing some various crack sentencing reform bills that have been put forward.  In addition, CQ Today has this effective article about all the current crack wackiness.  Here is how the piece starts:

A Tuesday hearing before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee is just the latest front in a widening battle between Democrats and administration officials over federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses.

What’s up next?  One possibility is legislation designed to block recent action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — action that effectively reduces sentences for crack cocaine offenses.  That legislation may not go very far.  But the escalating torrent of incendiary rhetoric designed to maximize political gain could have more far-reaching effects — especially in an election year.

The CQ Today article effectively highlights the interesting — and highly unpredictable — political stories surround this Senate hearing and the broader sentencing issues that it raises.  In an election year in which very few folks inside the Beltway have few strong political talking points, I won't be surprised to see a return to "tough-on-crime" rhetoric coming from both sides of the ailse.  However, given the economic and human costs of the legislation that this rhetoric has produced — as highlighted by my last three posts about Idaho reforms and Sargeant Lett and the pardon power — this kind of rhetoric may not be as politically effective as it once was.  At least that's what I am hoping, and this Senate hearing may well provide a very interesting window into how both parties are thinking about crime politics for November 2008.

Proof that the politics on these issues are changing comes in part from this new Washington Times editorial, titled "Reforming crack-cocaine law," authored by J.C. Watts and Asa Hutchinson.  Here is how it starts:

Both of us are former Republican congressmen; one of us is the former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration; and neither of us has ever been accused of being "soft on crime." That is why some may find it surprising that we respectfully disagree with our attorney general with regard to federal sentencing guidelines on crack and powder cocaine.  Simple standards of fairness call for the attorney general to support the recommendations of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which reduce the disparity of sentences and make the changes retroactive.

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February 12, 2008 at 10:38 AM | Permalink


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CSPAN3 is going to be airing the Senate Hearing, and it looks as though you may be able to watch online.

Posted by: C.Hessick | Feb 12, 2008 12:14:33 PM

Wow, I hope the DoJ rep gets hazardous duty pay for this hearing. She's getting beaten up and down by Judge Walton and the ABA rep. As she should be.

Posted by: JDB | Feb 12, 2008 4:05:21 PM

JDB you're right...,
If you notice at the end of the meeting as Judge Walton and Hinojosa were shaking hands and talking DOJ rep Sheppart was standing by waiting for her "chance" to shake hands with the judges, and for a split second she thought they were thru' talking and she kind of stuck her hand out to greet Hinojosa,(but they were still engaged) then eventually she just walked off to talk to someone else. The professional (and personal) "disagreement" is highly present..., espically concerning Judge Walton, to whom I side with...

Posted by: Wannabe | Feb 12, 2008 4:30:15 PM

Why should she be berated? She's just doing her job.

I've always wondered what would happen if someone decided to mouth off to a questioner in one of these hearings. Like if Senator Kennedy . . . . what if someone answered a question from Senator Kennedy by calling him "Senator Chappaquiddick".

Posted by: federalist | Feb 12, 2008 5:22:31 PM

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