Provisions in Bill Consistent With Recommendations from Justices Rehnquist, Kennedy and Breyer
(press release from the Drug Policy Foundation, http://www.dpf.org)
WASHINGTON -- Responding to calls from three Supreme Court justices and scores of federal judges, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would abolish nearly all drug-related federal mandatory minimum sentences (MMS).
Rep. Waters' bill, H.R. 1681, has slim chances of passage in a Republican-controlled Congress, but is landmark legislation because it is part of a significant change in the way policymakers are thinking about sentencing.
"For the first time in years, Congress is taking note of how our mandatory sentencing laws are filling our prisons without producing the intended decrease in drug use or supply," Drug Policy Foundation Policy Analyst Rob Stewart said.
Scores of federal judges have refused to hear drug cases in protest of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. And within the last few years, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, all Republican appointees, have also found mandatory minimums to be a flawed sentencing system. Kennedy has called them "imprudent, unwise and often an unjust mechanism."
"A more complete solution would be to abolish mandatory minimums," Breyer said in November at the University of Nebraska College of Law.
Conservative criminologist John DiIulio, once one of the staunchest proponents of long mandatory sentences, has recently written in support of the abolition of MMS.
"With mandatory minimums, there is no real suppression of the drug trade, only episodic substance-abuse treatment of incarcerated drug-only offenders, and hence only the most tenuous crime-control rationale for imposing prison terms -- mandatory or otherwise -- on any of them," DiIulio wrote in the National Review last month.
Mandatory minimums also disproportionately affect minorities. African Americans make up 12 percent of the population and roughly the same percentage of drug users, but they are 33 percent of federal drug convictions. The average drug sentence for African Americans is now 49 percent higher than sentences for the same offense for whites.
The irony of this change in sentencing thought is who's doing the thinking and who's doing the legislating. The Republicans in Congress are ignoring the advice of their own thinkers. Instead, a liberal Democrat, Waters, has seized the issue.