Today's SCOTUS decision in Beckles v. United States was a noteworthy win for the Justice Department. At stake were many, many sentences handed down under guidelines language identical to statutory language in the Armed Career Criminal Act that the Court struck down as void for vagueness in the Johnson case a little less than two years ago, https://www.oyez.org/cases/2014/13-7120. Not only did the Court preserve quite a few stern sentences for dangerous characters; it held that the Guidelines, being advisory only in the post-Booker world, embody a broadly discretionary sentencing system to which applying the concept of "vagueness" makes no sense.
So this is a big win for DOJ.........................Oh, wait. It was actually a loss for DOJ. That's because the Department's argument, prepared and presented by the Obama Solicitor General's Office, abandoned the victory the US Attorney had won in the Eleventh Circuit and took up the cause for a previously convicted felon who armed himself with a sawed-off shotgun.
Today, the Department's newly-minted but gushing embrace of the criminal won exactly zero votes.
As I've said before, Jeff Sessions can't start cleaning house too quickly.
Of course, if the Department had thought the only credible argument it could make was in the defendant's favor, it was obligated to do what it did. As has often been observed, for the prosecution, winning is not the point. Doing justice is the point. If that means confessing error, you confess error.
In the Beckles case, however, it meant no such thing. Not only had the guidelines sentence been affirmed by the Court of Appeals; every Justice hearing the case on the High Court also voted to affirm. There were three Justices concurring, but no dissents. As to result, the Department's attempt to spring Mr. Nicey was a unanimous flop. No Ginsburg. No Sotomayor. Zip.
One might think this would spark a sense of embarrassment in those at DOJ responsible for this botch, including the holdover career people in the SG's Office, but it won't. Obama's DOJ was never about serious sentencing. This was, after all, the same DOJ that worked overtime, not to stem the flood of heroin and nationwide violence we have seen for the last two years, but to help the Mr. Obama grant clemency to more hoodlums (mostly dealers in hard drugs) than all the Presidents combined going back at least to Eisenhower.
So why would you expect it to argue for tough sentencing language when that same language had been rejected in Johnson?
Here's why: Because under an honorable tradition going back decades, the Department makes every reasonable argument available in behalf of public safety. This tradition is valuable, not just for the obvious reason, but for a reason less visible but at least equally important. If the Department is truly to be non-political, and if it is to do the needed work to assure consistency and accessibility in law -- two of the defining hallmarks of law itself -- it cannot change litigating positions solely because Administration X looks more sympathetically on a criminal litigant than Administration Y.
When the Department decided to turn its back on the judgment below in its favor, and take up for Beckles despite the availability of a respectable (indeed, a winning) argument, someone at DOJ should have blown the whistle.
Yes, that person might have had to walk away from his job in the face of a Department as politicized as Obama's became. But that's all right. There are things in life more important than keeping your job in the government, http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2017/01/sally-yates-and-me.html .