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May 14, 2017

Some more notable reactions to the Sessions Memo

I highlighted in this prior post some first-cut reactions to the new charging and sentencing memorandum released yesterday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions (basics here). Now I will highlight a few more I have seen:

From NBC News here, "Attorney General Sessions Charts Course Back to Long Drug Sentences"

From BuzzFeed News here, "Former Federal Judges Say Sessions’ New Policy Will Take Power Away From The Courts"

Also from BuzzFeed News here, "Republicans And Democrats Are Blasting The "Dumb On Crime" Sessions Order For Tougher Sentencing"

From the Wall Street Journal here, "As Jeff Sessions Pushes for Tougher Drug Sentences, Previous Policy Gets Mixed Grades"

From the Washington Examiner here, "Former US attorneys hate Jeff Sessions' memo on tougher sentences"

Prior recent related posts: 

May 14, 2017 at 10:40 AM | Permalink


Nothing from the Right on Crime folks about overcriminalization? No condemnation of govt and prosecutorial overreach? No blasts at the Trump administration for holding up CJ reform, like Obama was endlessly blamed for?

Posted by: Paul | May 14, 2017 12:00:02 PM

Is the last question directed toward me, Paul?

Prez Trump has never expressed a commitment to CJ reform, so he cannot be fairly blamed for holding up something he seemingly opposes. I blasted Prez Obama because he often talked about a commitment to CJ reform but never had the political skill --- or the political courage or perhaps genuine interest --- in trying to get Congress to pass significant CJ reform.

Meanwhile, a number of the Right on Crime folks in Congress such as Rand Paul and Mike Lee have expressed criticisms of the new Sessions Memo.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 14, 2017 4:18:53 PM

@Doug B.

"so he cannot be fairly blamed for holding up something he seemingly opposes"

Now there is an artful dodge: a statement which is true but utterly besides the point. Of course he can't be blamed for stopping something he opposes but what he can be blamed for is opposing it in the first place.

Ever since Trump was elected I too have been struck by Doug's lack of any meaningful criticism of the Trump administration. Doug covers the news, sure, but there isn't the same judgmental attitude that Doug had towards the Obama administration. I don't care to publicly speculate on why this is the case but I have a pet theory that appears in my head in very black and white terms.

Posted by: Daniel | May 14, 2017 6:31:58 PM

"in trying to get Congress to pass significant CJ reform"

Highlight on the "significant." It's not like nothing was accomplished. And, a significant amount of time the opposite party was in power. The idea (raised) that somehow Democrats were to blame the last few years for not joining with a minority of Republicans when things simply aren't done these days without the Republicans as a whole supporting it to me was a bit laughable.

I'm less critical -- not that in a vacuum, I don't find his actions problematic and it's fine to push-back and demand better -- because of all he had to handle. This isn't merely some justification. Obama had a ton of things to worry about, including a much more strident opposition (something that built up since the 1990s/more power to them up to a point, that point being their inability to realize at times government matters more than partisanship and tax cuts), and manage with the Dems to get many things done. This includes a health care law that even now will not be totally defeated -- various parts are just too popular -- so will improve the well being of society in significant ways.

But, this blog has a certain concern, and in the area of concern Obama did less. So, I understand why there is a certain selective focus here. Finally, the author of this blog in the past praised a comment that set up a system of values that put various liberal values on a lower level of importance than others. So, Obama advancing some of them would get less respect in a fashion as well.

Anyway, this blog repeatedly tried to find a bright side suggesting some chance of advancement in criminal justice reform. The problem was, and this was apparent before the election, the Trump/Sessions brand of Republicanism was a bad fit there. There actually is room in the Republican Party for reform here, especially with a Republican President (Republicans in Congress were loathe to support ANYTHING that Obama might support, even things Republicans in the past supported). But, Trump/Sessions was a lousy fit there. But one more reason for a libertarian to be loathe to support him.

I understand many felt Clinton left much to be desired but even for this group, you live in the real world. And, in the real world, people should have supported Clinton. But, they did not. So, it goes.

Posted by: Joe | May 14, 2017 6:54:54 PM

Daniel: I have been largely keeping my powder dry with Trump because, in the criminal justice arena, I have yet to see him do anything as bad as his rhetoric and history suggests he might be inclined to do. (E.g., Trump promised in his 100-day play to enacted new mandatory minimum sentences in the immigration arena, see https://assets.donaldjtrump.com/_landings/contract/O-TRU-102316-Contractv02.pdf) New MMs would be wasteful and harmful, but they have not yet be pushed by Trump or Sessions.

AG Sessions is certainly eager to go back to the worrisome Clinton/Bush federal sentencing era, but I was actually surprised that, as Sessions himself noted, the tone and language of his new charging memo is actually better in giving prosecutors discretion to be lenient than were the charging memos that in place during the Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush years. And during most of those years, the guidelines were mandatory and drug mandatories and sentences were even higher than they are now. In other words, the Sessions memo is a bit more lenient that past memos and during a time when the existing sentencing rules are a bit more lenient. And, again most critically, we are not yet hearing Trump or Sessions talking about the need for mandatory minimum sentences, while such calls were so very common throughout the Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush years.

My criticism of Obama, Daniel and Joe, relates to his failure to deliver on many promises in the CJ reform arena during political windows that presented unique opportunities to get a whole lot done. Prez Obama campaigned in 2007 on having the courage to pursue serious CJ reform (see his 2007 Howard speech). But throughout his first Term, all he could/would do was crack sentencing reform in Aug 2010, and the FSA is MUCH weaker than he likely could have achieved if really committed to the cause when he had big majorities in BOTH houses of Congress. (Crack reform should have been done in first 100 days with, at worst, a 10-1 ratio and some retroactivity, and the echo effects of getting that done right away could have been profound. Recall that Jeff Sessions was a leading advocate on the GOP side for reform in this arena.)

Even after getting slammed in the 2010 midterms, Obama still had a window and reason to work with GOP members who were starting the Right on Crime movement. By late 2011, it was obvious to the head of the NAACP and many others that the Tea Party faction could and would be an effective partner on CJ reform, but Prez Obama made no clear effort to work with them even as Dems still controlled the Senate and the House was somewhat balanced. And after 2012, Obama especially could and should have made significant CJ reform a priority as young GOP leaders like Rand Paul and Mike Lee and even Ted Cruz were embracing CJ reform.

I stress these periods because crime was dropping during this era and there was limited reason to expect big factions of the GOP would oppose giving Obama a "victory" on this front with the 2016 campaign still far away. But it took until Aug 2013 for (then weak and soon to leave) AG Holder to start to advocate for significant reform and it took until summer 2015 for Prez Obama himself to "get his hands dirty" and actually give a speech as Prez on the issue. And even by that late date, Prez Obama likely could have helped engineer historic CJ reforms if he was willing to include mens rea reform in the SRCA, which he should have been willing to support on its own merits. Geez, even Mike Pence advocated for CJ reform in Fall 2016 as Trump's running mate in the VP debate! (Oh, and do not get me started on marijuana reform, which could and should have not only been a policy winner but also a political winner if, say in Nov 2014 after 4 states had fully legalized, Prez Obama set up a Prez commission to study and make reform recommendations to Congress.)

I could go on and on, but I readily acknowledge that this is a whole lot of monday morning quarterbacking --- though I surmise Joe and Daniel chime in because they recall my complaints while the Obama failings were unfolding in slow motion. I also acknowledge that Obama cared to and did "advance the ball" on a whole bunch of other issues (SSM, health care, immigration). But he said for more than a decade that he cared about CJ reform and he was Prez with the tools and a unique opportunity with the "wind at his back" to score multiple touchdowns. Yet after two terms, Prez Obama, in my view, only achieved a few first-downs in the CJ reform space.

Now, Trump and Sessions are suggesting they are eager to carry the ball in the other direction, but reassuringly the Sessions Memo is, so far, only a relatively small movement backward and it has not yet undone the small progress made by Obama. But the wind is now blowing in the other direction for a whole lot of reasons, and I will be sure to keep calling them as I see them as moves get made on the field.

Getting back to where I started, Daniel, I judge folks again the backdrop of what they say and they promise. Prez Obama raised my hopes, but largely did not deliver. Prez Trump raised my fears, but so far those fears have not yet been fully realized. But I am certainly concerned about the team with the ball now and which way the winds are blowing.

Posted by: Doug B | May 14, 2017 8:18:14 PM

Is the Ferguson Effect a part of reform?

Rod Rosenstein went on a witch hunt of the Baltimore police. They were forced to sign a Draconian consent decree. This is despite the acquittal of the police that were falsely accused by the black feminist Mayor and local prosecutor.

Murders are setting records on top of the record setting pace of murders in Baltimore. Thank Rosenstein for the mass murder of young black males in Baltimore.

Trump needs to fire Rosenstein immediately. He is a mass murderer.

Posted by: David Behar | May 14, 2017 8:37:27 PM

"during political windows that presented unique opportunities to get a whole lot done"

Narrow window especially with the reality of the filibuster & the fact there are at least a few tough on crime types in the Democratic caucus. I'm not even sure about the plural. But, while it went on, many other things were ongoing.

And, as I have noted, the criminal justice area is not independent from others. This is particularly the case in the immigration (surely the pushback from conservatives, including on this blog, is both overblown & based on something) and health care (drug treatment et. al. overlapping with the groups in question) areas. Net, even on a limited level, Obama advanced the ball, criticize him all you want, in ways it's hard to see any recent President (anti-crime legislation in the 1990s didn't help here in various ways, surely) did. The fact he could have went further is great to note, fine to push him, but the full story should be told.

Reference is made to "raising hopes," but a realistic sort who has seen how the world works should honestly be aware of the limitations here. First, there is the usual political puffery and idealism. Second, Obama came into power in part with the ideal of working with the other side, finding common ground. Takes two to tango here. Now, if he was naive here, fine, but the country was too.

And, it is simply unrealistic given who you had -- a moderate wary about unilateral action in various respects, wanting and needing bipartisan support -- to get some of what is desired. This includes some sort of hardball tactics. "He promised" to me is on a level naive, it's like the "St. Obama" stuff where people cite something like DRONES!!!! as if he was going to be some pure thing of his most idealist words.

Posted by: Joe | May 15, 2017 11:25:37 AM

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