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Leniency Legislation Is Back

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Paul Mirengoff has this post with the above title at Powerline.

Two years ago at this time, a bipartisan coalition of Senators was pushing legislation that would have slashed mandatory minimum sentences for many federal drug crimes. Such a bill had cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wisely declined to bring it up for a vote in the Senate because his caucus was divided on the merits.

Now, Team Leniency is trying again. The same bill that died two years ago is before the Judiciary Committee.

It will breeze through that body. Three of the legislation's main opponents two years ago -- Jeff Sessions, David Perdue and David Vitter -- are no longer on the committee (Sessions and Vitter are no longer in the Senate). Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ted Cruz remain and are likely to oppose the bill again, and Sen. Ben Sasse, a new member of the committee, might join them. But the committee will approve the leniency legislation, most likely with only three dissenters.

What happens then? I hope McConnell will make the same calculation he made two years ago under similar circumstances. However, Team Leniency, which includes the Majority Whip (Sen. Cornyn) and the Judiciary Committee chairman (Sen. Grassley), will push hard for a vote.
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The biggest difference between now and two years ago is, of course, that Donald Trump is president, not Barack Obama. The second biggest difference, for purposes of the sentencing reform debate, flows from the first -- Jeff Sessions is the Attorney General.

Sessions still vigorously opposes reducing the mandatory minimums. His view is shared, I think, by President Trump. I've heard that the White House might make its opposition known publicly this week.
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As I said, the leniency bill is a done deal in committee. What counts now is how President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell respond.

I'm cautiously optimistic that the legislation will again die on the vine, but we shouldn't simply assume that it will. We need to watch this one closely.
My own view, as I have said on this blog before, is that statutory mandatory minimums are unnecessary if we have a properly functioning system of mandatory sentencing guidelines.  Fix the Booker problem first, then address the statutory mandatory minimums.

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