Renowned sentencing expert (and long time buddy) Prof. Doug Berman put up a post about a year ago with this title: "Could Momentum for Sentencing Reform Now Be Unstoppable in the Federal System?" The gist of it was that, what with Eric Holder on board, the very enlightened coalition of libertarian-leaning Republicans like Rand Paul, and liberal Democrats, would enact significant sentencing reform legislation. ("Sentencing reform," for those unfamiliar, means only one thing, to wit, putting felons back on the street faster than they get there now).
Doug quoted a gushing article by Juan Williams in The Hill newspaper that said, among other things:
With the president and a line-up of his usual antagonists behind the same bill, the momentum for sentencing reform could be unstoppable. The result will be one of the biggest surprises of all the years of the Obama presidency -- a bipartisan success in passing new laws to reduce the nation's prison population.
So where are we now with that which is unstoppable?
Where we are is that the proposed legislation is as dead as a doornail.
The principal bill that was supposed to be unstoppable was the Justice Safety Valve Act, a provision that would essentially abolish every mandatory minimum sentence in federal law. The JSVA, however, proved to be so radically pro-criminal that Chairman Leahy, a resolute liberal, did not even bring it up for a vote in his own Committee.
The other proposal, the Smarter Sentencing Act, was brought up and passed in Committee by a lopsided 13-5 vote, with several Republicans joining all the Democrats. Thereafter, on May 7, as reported here:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told John Gramlich of CQ Roll Call that he would soon be bringing the bill to the floor of the Senate for debate (paywall): Asked whether he intends to bring committee-approved sentencing legislation to the floor soon, Reid said he has been consulting with the bill's sponsor, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and "the answer is yes."
Reid did no such thing, although he controls the floor to the extent that he changed the filibuster rules to pack the DC Circuit with Obama's hand-picked Lefties.
One must wonder, then, why Reid never brought the bill up for a vote, and left it by the wayside as the Senate took off to escape Washington's traditionally dreadful August. I can think of two (related) reasons.
The first is that he doesn't have the votes, even with a few Republicans coming over. There are a bunch of competitive races, and perhaps as many as a dozen Democrats might jump ship, correctly thinking that the well-being of the country is not advanced by more crime.
The second is that the nervous Democrats have no problem with more crime, since some of their most vocal and fat cat constituents are found in the private bar and pro-defendant interest groups like FAMM, but would strongly prefer to keep quiet about it and not take a recorded vote until after the election.
Even then, though, the Smarter Sentencing Act will still be dead. It hasn't even been brought up for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee, whose Republican majority and chairman are not in the thrall either of the libertarian holiday from responsible thinking or the Democrats' well-heeled bundlers and think-tank cheerleaders.