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June 1, 2011

Lamar Smith's (deeply misguided) statement about crack retroactivity debate

Via the Main Justice blog I came across a notable, and in my view deeply misguided, statement issued by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith concerning today's US Sentencing Commission hearing about whether to make its new crack guidelines retroactive. Here is the statement:

“The Sentencing Commission is poised to once again overstep its role and enforce laws not as enacted by Congress, but as the Sentencing Commission believes they should be enacted.  Congress did not create the Sentencing Commission to legislate or amend the laws passed by Congress.  But that is precisely what the Commission is considering with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.  Nothing in the Act nor in the congressional record implies that Congress ever intended that the new crack cocaine guidelines should be applied retroactively.  And yet, the Sentencing Commission may release thousands of crack traffickers before they have fully served their sentences.

“I’m also disappointed by the Obama administration’s position supporting the release of dangerous drug offenders.  It shows that they are more concerned with wellbeing of criminals than with the safety of our communities.  This sends a dangerous message to criminals and would-be drug offenders that Congress doesn’t take drug crimes seriously.

“The members of the Sentencing Commission are unelected and therefore are not accountable to the American people.  Time and again, the Sentencing Commission has chosen to usurp the authority of Congress and impose its will on our communities.  It is time for Congress to restore accountability to our sentencing laws and ensure that the Sentencing Commission cannot continue to create law without Congressional approval.”

There are so many troubling aspects of this statement with respect to the work of the US Sentencing Commission, I am not sure where to begin.  Most critically, everything that the US Sentencing Commission does is always subject to subsequent rejection by Congress, so the notion that the USSC does lots of stuff without at least tacit congressional approval is just wrong.  More specifically, there are in fact parts to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 and lots in the congressional record to suggest that Congress did expect and intend that the new crack cocaine guidelines could and should be applied retroactively by the USSC. 

As for the pot-shots at the Obama Administration, this rhetoric is even worse and even more irresponsible.  As reported here, the Obama Administration's position on crack retroactivity is expressly that "dangerous drug offenders" should not get the benefit of the new lower crack guidelines.  Moreover, to assert that Justice Department is "more concerned with wellbeing of criminals than with the safety of our communities" itself sends a "dangerous message" that the House Judiciary Chair doesn’t take seriously the challenge of responsible public policy decision-making and instead has a greater interest in sound-bite demagoguery.

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June 1, 2011 at 06:49 PM | Permalink


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"As for the pot-shots at the Obama Administration, this rhetoric is even worse and even more irresponsible."

Irresponsible pot-shots at the Obama Administration from a Texas Republican? Surely you jest, Berman.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Jun 1, 2011 7:59:47 PM

Interestingly, this is not the first time Lamar Smith has taken liberties with the truth. Apparently, even amongst the the rich people of Austin, Texas, there is growing frustration with the Congressman's habit of telling outright lies in his public statements, creating doubts about his character as well as a sense of embarrassment for some of the more educated Austin Republicans who don't like the idea of being represented by a Glenn Beck-type.

Posted by: James | Jun 1, 2011 8:04:07 PM

I think he'll find many republicans will not support his position.

Posted by: beth | Jun 1, 2011 8:17:47 PM


We should respect laws enacted by Congress when you have conservative idiots like Lamar Smith prostituting themselves for politicial capital. And I dislike liberals more. I honestly can say that when I really think about it, I choke on the words to the Pledge of Allegiance. How did we get here?

As I always say, whether republican or democrat you get screwed but do not get any value for your money (taxes). At least, when you pay voluntarily (it is a crime everywhere except certain counties in Nevada), you get some value for your money.

Posted by: albeed | Jun 1, 2011 11:05:23 PM

lol what an idiot! Of course congress wants them to do it. that way THEY take the heat!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 2, 2011 1:57:30 AM

It is ironic that people like him don't see there is something wrong with rapist, murders,drunk driver who cause a life and child preditors..How is that a child preditor can have parole when a drug offender cannot get a chance at getting closer to being home with their families..I don't agree with drugs but people have a choice when they want to do drugs or not. I think you should to do the same to the liquor stores becauseto sale liquor to people and they get drunk and go out and drive and take a life who don't have a choice if they want to live or die..and the same with murder, rapist and child preditor. It doesnt take 15 or 20 years to know that you made mistakes when you were young there are alot of people who done things and never got caught. We all made mistakes at some point in our lives..If the shoe was on the other feet how would people like him feel if it was one of their children.They would really fight harder to make all kinds of things happen. My husband has been in prison for 15 years for crack cocaine and yes he regret it everyday of the choices he made when he was younger but he is not a violent person and he is a caring person he will give you the clothes off his body if he think it will help a person out and not only that he is his parents only child and this would be such a wonderful blessing for him to come home soon to spend time with his parents for lost time that he has been away from them. If God can forgive us of our wrong doing why is it so hard for man..and who are they to judge everyone deserves a second chance at life to makeup for the wrong they did.

Posted by: Dorothy | Jul 2, 2011 10:31:46 AM

I am seeking help and information on how to apply for this sentence reduction for the crack law which this inmate was sentence to life without parole for 30 grams of crack .. This inmate has severed 20 years. As of july 2011 This sentence was ridiculous .I am a concerned family member/ student . This inmate did not rape kill shoot anyone and have received this sentence. I am a firm beleiver that everyone makes bad decisions in their life at one time or another and you must serve time for your wrong doings, but not life killer, rapist,bank robbers, maybe but not life in prison without parole.If there is a lawyer defense team that can guide me in the right direction for release please contact me via e mail...

Posted by: DiONNE Lockett | Jul 12, 2011 11:26:58 AM

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