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Loretta Lynch Confirmed

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The vote was not that close, 56-43.  The Wall Street Journal has the story.

AG Nominee Cleared for Vote

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Kristina Peterson and Louise Radnofsky report in the WSJ:

Senate leaders on Tuesday resolved a partisan dispute over abortion funding that had snarled a bill aimed at curbing human trafficking for more than a month and prevented the chamber from voting on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said that the Senate would begin to consider Ms. Lynch's nomination "hopefully in the next day or so." He has said that the Senate wouldn't vote on Ms. Lynch, nominated by Mr. Obama last year, until the dispute over the trafficking bill had been resolved.

Bring Up, and Vote Down, an Amended JSVA

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The Justice Safety Valve Act, which would effectively nullify mandatory minimum sentencing in federal law, was so radical that its co-sponsor, Sen. Pat Leahy, would not bring it up last year in his own Committee.  In this, Sen. Leahy showed his typical canny feel for the lay of the land.  Committee chairmen tend not to bring up bills they know are so ideologically lopsided they'll go down in flames. 

Still, Sen. Leahy and Sen. Rand "no vaccinations" Paul have co-sponsored the same bill this year.  If Sen. Leahy were still the Chairman, I have no reason to believe he'd be any more willing to advance it than he was in the past.

Still, there could be value in having a vote on the bill in the SJC  --  having a vote, that is, if the bill were amended to give the public a more transparent look at what it's actually designed to do.
There are reasons to vote for, and reasons to vote against, the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as Attorney General.  Kent and I have discussed the question in several places.  

Kent has noted that Ms. Lynch, while not an ideal candidate from the perspective of those favoring resolute enforcement of criminal law, is about the best we can expect from this Administration.  I have expressed more than a little concern about Ms. Lynch's complicity is what she could not help knowing was perverse, and  -- much more troubling  --  unethical behavior by Judge John Gleeson.  On the other hand, I am favorably impressed with her refusal to adopt the liberal line on pot.

The vote on her nomination has not yet been taken in the Senate.  For whatever one might make of the procedural maneuvers involved, today we saw the announcement of an unusual but some might say compelling reason to delay the vote for weeks. Maybe months.

The Congress-following paper The Hill has the story.
Sentencing "reform" advocates are endlessly frustrated that they make so little headway in Congress.  Unwilling to consider the possibility that their problem is that going softer on heroin and meth dealers just isn't an idea the majority of lawmakers (or the public) supports, a Boogeyman  --  a single, obdurate roadblock  -- must be found.

Today's Boogeyman (and a popular choice for the title) is Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Hence this from a leading sentencing "reform" site:

[E]ven if the vast majority of Senators strongly support significant reforms to federal mandatory minimum sentencing provisions or to federal marijuana provisions, Senator Grassley can ensure-- at least until 2017, and perhaps after that if the GOP retains control of the Senate -- that federal reform bills do not even get a committee hearing, let alone a committee vote.   Indeed, even if the vast majority of 300 million Americans, and even if the vast majority of the 718,215 Iowans who voted for Senator Grassley in 2010, would strongly favor a reform bill, the bill is likely DOA if Senator Grassley himself is not keen on the bill's particulars. Frustratingly, that is how our democracy now functions.

Ah, yes, the frustration of democracy.  Only there's this little catch........

Rand Paul, Dancin' and Prancin'

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Sen. Rand Paul has now "clarified" his remarks yesterday, in which he said (emphasis added), "I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed." 

Now we hear this, from Byron York in the Washington Examiner

The Paul campaign says the senator's words were misunderstood. "Sen. Paul was referring to nonviolent crimes," campaign spokeswoman Eleanor May told me via email, adding that the passage in question was "a reference to his criminal justice reforms."

Where to start?

Rand Paul Launches, Immediately Explodes

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When I was a kid, I watched in dismay as America's fledgling space program resulted in one launch after another in which the rocket got 15 feet off the ground, only to explode in a ball of fire.

Fast forward 50 or so years, and you see Rand Paul doing the same thing.

In his Presidential campaign launch today  --  undoubtedly the most important, carefully considered and best rehearsed speech of his life  --  Paul said this:

I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed.

In other words, Rand Paul sees an America where essentially every felony law is repealed, since virtually all of them "disproportionately incarcerate people of color," not to mention people in their twenties and people who are male.

I like to think of myself as decently good with language, but words fail me in trying to convey the ignorance and stupidity of Paul's statement.

Rand Paul Launches, Part II

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Kent questioned where Sen. Rand Paul stands on the death penalty.  I have wondered about that for some time, but have not been able to get a direct answer, even after asking a member of his staff.

I did find this July 2014 article from the Washington Times, headlined, "Rand Paul Says Death Penalty Is a State Issue."  It begins:

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday that the disproportionate number of minorities in the nation's prisons convinced him to push for sentencing reform and restoring voting rights to some convicted felons ahead of a possible presidential run in 2016.

However, the fact that there are a disproportionate number of minorities on death row in the U.S. has not led him to scrutinize capital punishment. He said the death penalty is a state issue.

"I haven't had a lot of feedback specifically on that," Paul told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "I just haven't taken a position on the death penalty."

This is a deficient answer for at least three reasons.  First, it's not just a state issue; federal law provides for the death penalty in some cases, and the voters are entitled to know whether Paul, as President, would seek to repeal, or would simply refuse to employ, that provision.  Second, Paul is a resident of a state that has capital punishment, and it would be illuminating to know where he stands on that "state issue."  Third, the answer is a fairly obvious dodge. Especially now, as the Boston Marathon bomber case heads towards resolution, let's hear from Sen. Paul if he approves  --  as even Eric Holder does  -- allowing the jury to consider the death penalty for Mr. Tsarnaev.



Rand Paul Launches

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Janet Hook of the WSJ has this story on Rand Paul's campaign launch and this video noting his differences from his father, who made several longshot bids for the White House.

Hook describes Paul as having a "libertarian-leaning brand of conservatism."  My impression is that he is a straight libertarian who agrees with conservatives only when those two very different paths happen to reach the same endpoint.  (See Jonathan Haidt for a more complete explanation of conservative v. libertarian mindsets.)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a feature on Paul's stands on issues.  The one relevant to this blog is:

CRIMINAL JUSTICE
This is an issue that largely sets Paul apart from the rest of the Republican field. He wants to restore voting rights to nonviolent convicted felons, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, end the federal sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine and make it easier for people to expunge their criminal records. He has partnered with Democrats on most of those issues, which might broaden his appeal nationally should he win the GOP nomination.
It not only sets him apart from the rest of the Republican field, it sets him apart from most Republican voters, one reason to very much doubt that he has any realistic chance of winning the nomination.

Birtherism déjà vu

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Years ago, I got an email from a correspondent all excited about the "birther" controversy, whether Barack Obama was actually born in Hawaii or in a foreign country.  I told him to fuhgeddaboudit.  Even if he were born elsewhere, as the son of a U.S. citizen mother he was a "natural born Citizen" within the meaning of Article II of the Constitution.

Here we go again.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is using an anti-filibuster technique that I have long wondered is not used more often.  The filibuster, of course, is an exploitation of the Senate's unlimited debate rule to simply stall a vote that a minority of Senators does not want to be taken.  It has a long and notorious history, most prominently for delaying the enactment of civil rights legislation for decades.

The technique I have always thought should be used more often is to tell the filibusterers, "Fine.  Stall as long as you want.  By the way, the vote on something you want very much will be taken after the vote on the bill you are filibustering."

So, there is a bill in the Senate to combat human trafficking.  Who can be against that, right?  Well, there is a provision in the bill extending the Hyde Amendment prohibition on use of federal funds for abortion.  (CJLF takes no position on this.)  Democrats are filibustering the bill.  Sen. McConnell is putting off the vote on the confirmation of Loretta Lynch.

AG Vote Next Week

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Kathleen Hunter reports for Bloomberg that "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the the chamber would consider Loretta Lynch's nomination to be attorney general next week..."
I'm late getting to this, but it should not pass without note.  Last week, DOJ announced that it had no case against (now former) Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson  --  this after essentially destroying his career with menacing, and false, speculation. "Hands up, don't shoot" and all that.

Apparently feeling heat from the disappointed mob calling for Wilson's scalp, however, DOJ issued a long report blasting epidemic racism in the Ferguson Police Department.  Among the principal allegations was that Ferguson is running a sort of poor man's version of debtors' prison (pardon the mixed metaphors). The city does this by, among other things "racist" traffic and parking citations, which, when ignored, snowball into escalating fines and costs.  These are designed To Further Torment The Already Downtrodden.

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline has a devastating answer, a taste of which is below:

[There are] several responses to the DOJ's attack on Ferguson's enforcement of its ordinances pertaining to matters such as parking. First, it is none of the federal government's business. The price of a parking ticket and the penalties for not paying them on time are issues of purely local concern.

Second, there is no basis for inferring racism from Ferguson's parking enforcement practices. Cities and municipalities throughout the nation generate revenue from the policing of parking violations and the like.

For example, Washington, DC, whose government is run by African-American officials, raises a significant amount of revenue by ticketing parking violators, including a large number of white suburbanites who park in the District (me, for example). This isn't racism or even anti-suburban bias. It's not personal; it's just business.

Third, there's an easy way to thwart "revenue generation through policing." Obey the parking rules and other municipal ordinances, and don't exceed the speed limit. In the event of a violation, pay your fine on time and don't blow off any court appearances. Is this too much to ask?

If Senators Rand Paul and Corey Booker have had anything to say about the Big Government absurdity of federal clucking about parking tickets, I haven't seen it. Federalism, it seems, is a sometime thing.

Death Penalty Repeal Fails in Montana

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Mike Dennison reports in the Montana Standard:

The state House deadlocked Monday 50-50 on a bill to abolish the death penalty in Montana, likely killing the measure for the 2015 Legislature.
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Monday's vote fell largely along party lines, with most Republicans against it - but it took three of the House's 41 Democrats voting "no" to reject the bill, which would abolish the death penalty in Montana and substitute it with life in prison without parole. Montana has two murderers on death row.
While the vote is welcome, it is unfortunate and worrisome that they got that close.  Repeal supporters have swung marginal votes with arguments that the process takes too long and costs too much, when the obvious answer is to make in faster and, in the process, cheaper.

The way to make review of death penalty cases faster and cheaper while making it more reliable with regard to genuine miscarriages of justice is to limit all repeated reviews, after the first full round of review, to questions with some bearing on actual innocence. 

The Road Ahead For Oregon

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John Kitzhaber is no longer Governor of Oregon.  There is no news of his issuing any death row commutations on his way out the door.  AP has this story on a noncapital commutation. 

Kitzhauber's December 6, 2011 reprieve, quoted in the Oregon Supreme Court's decision in Haugen v. Kitzhaber, S060761 (June 20, 2013), reads,

NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me by Article V, Section 14 of the Oregon Constitution, I, John A. Kitzhaber, MD, Governor of the State of Oregon, hereby grant Gary D. Haugen a temporary reprieve of the aforementioned death sentence for the duration of my service as Governor.
The duration of his service is over.  The reprieve is over.  What next?

The new Governor, until-today Secretary of State Kate Brown, can and should allow the law to take its course.  The primary thing wrong with the death penalty is that the judgments take too long to carry out.  Imposing a moratorium as a remedy makes no more sense than the nineteenth-century doctors bleeding patients as a remedy.

But will she?

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