Washington lawmakers have finally managed to come together on an issue we would expect them to never agree on: sentencing reform. That’s a lucky thing for felons in prison who can’t vote but still have a say on Capitol Hill because both parties can use them to score a few points with voters.
It’s not quite so lucky for those subjected to congressional-style partisan justice meted out to alleged offenders like Brett Kavanaugh who become de facto criminals for hazy incidents never reported or charged and likely too old to prove that still possess a mountain of obstructive value.
Sentencing reform bills are back just in time
Citing a “Voice of the People” poll, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) opined:
Americans across the country, the President of the United States and a vast bipartisan coalition in Congress want justice and opportunity for every American.1
That’s a pretty broad statement when you consider that he’s talking about sentencing reform bills. The prison population is a lot smaller than the entirety of the American people and the “everyone wants this” rationale doesn’t always work. In this case, however, bipartisanship is the truth.
Grassley has more than a passing interest in sentencing reform bills. His Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act includes boilerplate reforms like chopping mandatory minimums down to size and reforming three strikes and you’re out laws.2 The bill also touches on Obama-era demands to fix draconian crack cocaine sentences.
There’s nothing very new here expect that Grassley’s sentencing reform bill found a rare bipartisan moment. S. 1917 split cleanly down the Democrat/Republican divide with 15 cosponsors on each side.
FIRST STEP Act passes in rare show of bipartisanship
In the House, Doug Collins’ (R-GA) FIRST STEP Act did almost as well with 10 Republicans and 9 Democrats backing a mix of reform ideas that includes a new protection for prison guards. The Lieutenant Osvaldo Albarati Correctional Officer Self-Protection Act of 2018 is a nod to an officer killed in the line of duty that allows prison guards to carry concealed firearms.3 Even this wasn’t enough to keep Democrats away. They joined Republicans to approve this FIRST STEP and send it to the Senate.
All seems well and good here. We spend a lot of money to keep criminals in prison. Many are non-violent. They would be better suited to being incarcerated at home, placed in first offender programs, or at least kept away from the worst of the worst in our violent penitentiaries.
Still, this feels like an enormous amount of leniency from Democrats who are quick to condemn presidential nominees at the slightest hint of impropriety or disagreement with their liberal goals. Given their support of fairness in sentencing it doesn’t seem right to give criminals a break while convicting people who have never been charged with anything.
Republican justice reform is not meaningful enough
Togetherness across the aisle has its limits even before we get to the Kavanaugh debacle.
H.R. 6691, the Community Safety and Security Act, is another stab at fixing our criminal justice system. This effort by Georgia Republican Karen Handel seeks to redefine “crime of violence” after the Supreme Court’s United States v. Dimaya decision. Handel proposed the bill after Dimaya because:
As a result, lower courts would have to make judgment calls as to which crimes “involved a substantial risk” of physical force. While the decision arose from a particular situation and specific court case, the Court’s ruling regarding this code section is broad and applies to all circumstances.4
The bill leaves little doubt what crimes like ‘abusive sexual contact’ and ‘domestic violence’ mean, but cracking down before a big election isn’t very popular with politicians hoping to keep their seats. It’s no big secret where criminal justice reform is headed. It’s not in the direction of defining violent crimes for prosecution’s sake with bills like Handel’s. According to House Judiciary Subcommittee member Sheila Jackson Lee:
However well-intentioned, this bill haphazardly pushes forward an overly expansive definition of crime of violence. The bill is overbroad, unnecessary and could have substantial harmful effects because expanding the definition of certain crimes exacerbates the nagging societal predicament of enlarging the prison population.5
If a criminal is violent and hurts someone prison is where they should be no matter how large our prison population. This isn’t a societal predicament. It’s an issue for budgetary bean counters to deal with.
Guilty but never charged: Supreme Court nominee worse than a convicted felon?
When it comes to justice, society has another “nagging societal predicament.” Lee’s opinion about this one is completely different. She didn’t have a problem judging Brett Kavanaugh guilty of the crime of conservative beliefs:
Given his perspective on Executive Power, his hostility towards women’s rights, and his indifference to the plight of minorities, his nomination was already regressive and inadvisable.6
Her party was no less judgmental:
To hold a vote now would be an insult to women and girls, sending a powerful message that they don’t matter and will not be believed. Let’s instead set an example for our children that sexual violence should be taken seriously and emphatically denounced.7
The only problem is that Kavanaugh was never charged with sexual violence or anything else. He was tried, convicted, and found guilty by Democrats who don’t want conservative justices to legislate from the bench. They want liberal justices to legislate from the bench.
This is the biggest of all leagues. Ruining a respected man’s reputation because he’s unlucky enough to be nominated for the Supreme Court is as much a part of the game as the cat and mouse charade swirling around the appearance of the accuser.
Pro-Choice Caucus clues us in on Kavanaugh
Give credit to the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus for honesty. The fear of overturning Roe v. Wade was a Kavanaugh stumbling block long before the unfounded assault allegations were announced. The caucus’ statement on the confirmation tells us exactly where the opposition is coming from:
Whoever fills the vacant Supreme Court seat will make decisions that directly affect the ability of women to make decisions about their health care, their families and their future. No one who displays an inability to respect women should be given a pass.8
Except there is no proof that this nominee has an “inability to respect women,” only proof that he is white, male, and Republican. In these contentious times that makes him one of the most despised things on the planet.
How does a moral society reconcile politicizing forgiveness for criminals while convicting individuals and destroying reputations because of hearsay? Real criminals are deemed worthy of our forgiveness and charity. Certainly Barack Obama showed no aversion to pardoning gun-toting drug traffickers while his party screamed for firearms regulations.
When it comes to sentencing reform bills criminal justice may or may not need to be fixed, but it’s hard to deny that our ethics are bankrupt. That’s a much more difficult problem to repair.
UPDATE September 28, 2018: Feinstein’s hollow plea for integrity
We learned nothing from yesterday’s Senate effort to embarrass America on the world stage. If we ever wondered whether there was a limit for Democratic Party obstruction we know the answer now and it’s a resounding “NO.”
One of the chief ringleaders of yesterday’s charade places a lot of emphasis on the integrity of a government that just proved it doesn’t have any. As the dog and pony show got underway Senator Dianne Feinstein remarked:
We’re here to decide whether to elevate this nominee to the most prestigious court in our country. It is about the integrity of that institution and the integrity of this institution.9
Then she joined fellow Democrats determined to besmirch their own institution by focusing on Brett Kavanaugh’s drinking behavior, which was their last resort after the testimony of their star witness brought them nowhere.
This isn’t the first time Feinstein has expressed worries about our government’s integrity. She criticized “President Trump’s attacks on the integrity of the F.B.I. and of officials with the Russia investigation”:10
We expect that those charged with protecting the integrity of American institutions will ensure that the investigation can proceed without
With Feinstein’s assistance we just found out that one of our most prominent American institutions, the U.S. Senate, has no integrity.
Support for criminals and sentencing fix, but not Kavanaugh
Feinstein supported the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 in part because:
I know the negative effects of rigid, determinate sentences on families and defendants. Judges need discretion to evaluate the facts of each case before them.12
We didn’t hear much in the way of discretion on Thursday. We listened to a rabid pack of partisan hyenas doing their level best to turn nominee Kavanaugh into a sexually dangerous drunken sot. There’s not a lot of integrity in that.
At least the California senator showed no delusion when she stated in a Los Angeles Times op ed why she rejects Trump’s nominee. Reason number one was Roe v. Wade. It seems that integrity of our government and institutions is a lot less important than the integrity of the Supreme Court process and the ability of Democrats to do what they fear most from Republicans: legislating from the bench.
UPDATE September 29, 2018: innocence means guilty in Senate’s unethical fantasyland
When it comes to sentencing reform bills we don’t have to worry about the presumption of innocence or guilt. If you are being sentenced for a crime we’re past that point.
Being guilty by accusation is far more expeditious. It allows us to skip due process and go right to the punishment phase. In nominee Kavanaugh’s case that punishment means a tarnished reputation no matter what happens.
This would be a lot easier to swallow if a Republican wasn’t pulling the strings.
Presumption of innocence means an FBI investigation to prove guilt
Departing Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is talking out of both sides of his mouth. In a press release yesterday he confirmed:
What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence. That is what binds us to the rule of law.
That “presumption of innocence” turned into an FBI investigation that gives Democrats a week to dig up someone new with corroborating evidence, or at least someone who appears to corroborate the claims already leveled at this nominee.
That’s what the FBI investigation Democratic senators demanded and won is really about. It buys them more time to make Kavanaugh guilty. This is how America’s presumption of innocence works when the stakes are too high for ethics.
UPDATE October 6, 2018: guilty or else. Activists hold us hostage.
It was impossible for me to share in the jubilation that followed Jason Van Dyke’s second degree murder conviction in Chicago yesterday. By the time the trial ended the threat of retaliation for not delivering a guilty verdict put police on high alert, closed businesses, shut down schools, and had city residents holding their breath as they waited for an outburst of protest that we had every reason to think could turn ugly given the violence that plagues the city.
Is fear of retaliation the new left’s vision for justice?
From the moment it hit the headlines America followed the story of a Chicago police officer who shot a youth armed with a knife sixteen times. As it drew to a close Van Dyke’s trial offered a view of our justice system from the opposite side of the fence from what Brett Kavanaugh faced. The charges against Kavanaugh were not corroborated. We saw on video what Van Dyke did, but we will never know for certain why. What we do know is that both men were judged and convicted long before their stories came to a close. Protesters loudly voiced their demands for how these defendants should be judged. They were both guilty as charged, even though there never were any charges against Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh.
Sentencing reform is on the table for offenders already locked up because they are said to be victims of an unjust system, the same system that judged Van Dyke long before his trial got underway.
The rest of us were innocent onlookers yesterday. We just wanted to go about our daily lives. Instead, a city was held hostage by the threat of a jury not delivering a court verdict activists decided on long ago.
UPDATE October 14, 2018: first up for Kavanaugh: sentencing reform
Now he’s Justice Kavanaugh. Despite his innocent plea being wholeheartedly rejected by Democrats and the liberal left despite an appalling lack of evidence and corroboration one of his first tasks is to rethink what “violent felony” means and when we should apply enhanced Armed Career Criminal Act penalties.
The case is Stokeling v. United States. At issue are ramped up penalties for crimes committed with firearms. This is another irony for Democrats who famously support gun control legislation while cheering sentencing reform and Obama pardons issued to offenders with guns.
After being found guilty without charges, evidence, a trial, or sentencing, now our newest Supreme Court justice is caught between a rock and a liberal hard place. Two-faced Democrat Party leaders want to have it both ways despite the loss of life at the hands of the very same people liberals find excuses for. Enhanced penalties and mandatory minimums aren’t very popular these days, but fortunately SCOTUS decisions are based on law and not politics. Too bad we can’t apply the same sanity to the Senate confirmation process.
1. “Poll Shows Americans Overwhelmingly Support Prison, Sentencing Reforms.” Committee on the Judiciary. August 23, 2018. https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/press/rep/releases/poll-shows-americans-overwhelmingly-support-prison-sentencing-reforms, retrieved September 25, 2018.
3. “H.R. 5682 – FIRST STEP Act.” Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/5682?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22first+step+act%22%5D%7D&r=1, retrieved September 25, 2018.
4. “Handel Leads Legislation to Make Communities Safer.” Karen Handel September 7, 2018. https://handel.house.gov/media/press-releases/handel-leads-legislation-make-communities-safer, retrieved September 25, 2018.
5. “Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee Calls on Congress to Reject Rushed, Overbroad and Unnecessary Changes to Criminal Laws and Work to Enact Meaningful Criminal Justice Reform.” Sheila Jackson Lee. September 24, 2018. https://jacksonlee.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congresswoman-sheila-jackson-lee-calls-on-congress-to- reject-rushed, retrieved September 25, 2018.
6. “Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee Calls on the United States Senate to Halt Confirmation Proceedings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh due to allegations of Sexual Misconduct.” Sheila Jackson Lee. September 16, 2018. https://jacksonlee.house.gov/media-center/press-releases
/congresswoman-sheila-jackson-lee-calls-on-the- united-states-senate-to, retrieved September 25, 2018.
7. “110 Democrats Urge Senate to Delay Kavanaugh Vote, Allow Thorough Investigation into Sexual Assault Allegations,” Brenda Lawrence. September 28, 2018. https://lawrence.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/110-democrats-urge-senate-delay-kavanaugh-vote-allow-thorough, retrieved September 25, 2018.
8. “Pro-Choice Caucus Leaders Call for Halt to Kavanaugh Confirmation Process, Seek Full and Fair Investigation.” Diana DeGette. September 25, 2018. https://degette.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/pro-choice-caucus-leaders-call-for-halt-to-kavanaugh-confirmation, retrieved September 26, 2018.
9. “Feinstein Speaks on Brett Kavanaugh’s Credibility and Character.” Dianne Feinstein. September 27, 2018. https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?id=5293CB99-6FE4-4CC9-9D0F-FEA185C23CE3, retrieved September 28, 2018.
10. “Feinstein, Colleagues Call on Justice Department Officials to Protect the Special Counsel.” Dianne Feinstein. March 27, 2018. https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=B9FA1CD0-13C7-41D9-92F5-026529BF9431, retrieved September 28, 2018.
12. “Feinstein, Senators Introduce Bipartisan Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Package.” Dianne Feinstein. October 4, 2017. https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=0936A59B-29F4-4DD2-99DC-DE665EB84C61, retrieved September 28, 2018.
13. “Flake Statement on SCOTUS Nomination.” Jeff Flake. September 28, 2018. https://www.flake.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=D00A6D7D-91F1-483C-90A4-7E75B604B3DF, retrieved September 29, 2018.