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News Flash: Harvard Can't Stomach Jeff Sessions

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Sentencing Law and Policy has an entry today about the Sessions era at the Justice Department.  It quotes The Hill magazine, which starts off:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has brought sweeping change to the Department of Justice. In just two months as the nation's top cop, Sessions has moved quickly to overhaul the policies and priorities set by the Obama administration....

Alex Whiting, faculty co-director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School, said it appears Sessions is resurrecting the tough on crime policies last seen during the George W. Bush administration.  "Obama moved away from that approach, and I think in the criminal justice world there seemed to be a consensus between the right and left that those policies, those rigid policies of the war on drugs and trying to get the highest sentence all the time, had failed," he said.  "I don't know if he is really going to be able to persuade the department to follow his lead on this."

Where to start?

First, Prof. Whiting's most recent experience in the Justice Department was in the business end of the notoriously left-leaning Civil Rights Division.  So we have a pretty good idea from the getgo what the professor is going to think of Trump's Attorney General  --  not that this differentiates him from anyone else at Harvard.

Second, there is not and never was "a consensus between the right and the left" that George Bush's policies were a failure.  There was agreement between the left and a narrow band of libertarians (and some evangelicals) that we should go softer on drug sentencing.  But that band was a minority in the Republican Party (of whose internal dynamics I venture to say Prof. Whiting knows zero).  It had no operative power on the floor of either chamber of Congress, which is why sentencing "reform" bills never made it to either floor.

Third, there was indeed a recent consensus on criminal justice policy, but Prof. Whiting never mentions it.  That would be the consensus in the Bill Clinton/George W. Bush years to use increased incarceration as a tool against crime.  That consensus actually did produce bi-partisan legislation, more than once.  But since the resulting statutes are retrograde in Prof. Whiting's view, they never get so much as mentioned.

Fourth, if there had been an anti-Bush and anti-Clinton consensus that tougher policies failed, such a consensus   --  like the one-time consensus in physics about ether  --  would have been pure tripe.  

I know I'm getting tiresome repeating this, but since the pro-criminal element seems unwilling to learn, I'll keep it up anyway:  There is no theory this side of the insane asylum that the policies that helped cut crime by half are a failure.  

It's simply astonishing that a Harvard professor, no less, could view the biggest drop in crime over the shortest period in our history as "failure."

Or then again, maybe it's not.  I don't know where Prof. Whiting lives and it's none of my business.  But I would  wager it's not in the communities that will be and are being hit hardest by the sharp increase in crime and drug overdose deaths in the last two years of the Obama Administration.

Fifth, the "rigid policies of the war on drugs" is an odd, if characteristically leftist, phrase for, "enforcing existing drug law."  In the olden days, it was thought that enforcing existing law was what the Attorney General is supposed to do.  If Congress wants to repeal the law, that is its prerogative.  It doesn't, it hasn't, and it's not inspiration but usurpation for the Executive Branch simply to employ an effective-repeal-by-intentional-sloth strategy.

Sixth, the claim that the Bush Justice Department tried "to get the highest sentence all the time" is a point-blank lie, as Prof. Whiting can't help knowing.  In fact, Bush's Department itself sought downward departures in about a quarter of drug cases; it did not object to downward departures in thousands of others; it only sometimes sought a sentence at the top of the guidelines range; and it almost never sought the statutory maximum when it was above the advisory range.

I'm used to copious lying by the sentencing reform crowd, but I would have hoped for something better from someone entrusted with the heavy responsibilities of teaching the young.

Finally, I don't know who Prof. Whiting talks to at DOJ, but the career people I talk to are thrilled with Jeff Sessions' priorities, and are chomping at the bit  -- not reluctant  --  "to follow his lead on this." 

If the sentencing "reform" people had a good case on the merits, why do they need to resort to this amount of deceit? 

1 Comment

Bill, you are right as rain here.

One example of the disconnect--if you read news articles closely about the deportation of illegal aliens, many of the articles pooh-pooh activities such as drunk driving or driving without insurance.

What sane person thinks that deportation authorities should look the other way when it comes to getting those sorts of criminals out of the US or view these people as victims of a cruel deportation regime.

That the press feels that way is emblematic of how much wood we have to chop.

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