Eric Holder has overstepped his boundaries and the U.S. Sentencing Commission is not pleased.
Last month Holder was invited to the Commission’s meeting regarding a proposed amendment to reduce drug trafficking sentences by two levels. The Commission was not informed, however, that the night before their meeting at around 11 p.m., Holder had already acted.
“[Holder] ordered all of the assistant U.S. attorneys…to argue for the two level reduction…before the commission had acted and before Congress had the opportunity to vote,” Commissioner Ricardo Hinojosa said.
Although the Commission passed the amendment unanimously, Hinojosa said he was “surprised at the attorney general’s steps taken to deal with this reduction outside the legal system.”
Hinojosa explained that the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 gives the Commission the right to suggest and pass sentencing guidelines or amendments to existing guidelines for Congress. Then, Congress has the legal right to discuss, alter, or vote down said suggestions.
Holder’s decision to unilaterally tell the courts to abide by those suggestions before the Commission or Congress voted was called an “unprecedented instruction” by Commissioner William Pryor.
“The law provides the executive no authority to decide the national sentencing policies based on speculation about how we and Congress might vote,” Pryor added.
Eric Holder is a non-voting member of the Commission and his delegate, Jonathan Wroblewski, strongly took issue with the claims that Holder had overstepped his boundaries.
“This talk about what the attorney general said as [being] outside the legal system, disregard for the law ignoring the process, being improper – those are very, very serious charges and something that I feel obligated to speak on.”
He explained that after reexamining the law, the courts had the right to consider the guidelines and then make changes if they found the minimums to be greater than necessary.
“It is our obligation as officers of the court to make the recommendations to the court about sentences that are sufficient but not greater than necessary. That is the law. That is our requirement,” Wroblewski said.
Hinojosa, agitated by Wroblewski’s assertion, disagreed.
Regardless, the Commission expressed excitement over their bipartisan unanimous vote and praised it for saving taxpayer dollars, allowing prisons to shift to policing and other safety measures, and for reducing the overcrowding in federal prisons.
If passed by Congress, the amendment should reduce the number of prisoners by 6,500 people over the next five years.
As for Holder? It comes as no surprise that this administration would dare to overstep their constitutional boundaries. The general distaste of the Commission toward Holder’s decision was evident. Hinojosa repeatedly pointed out that two years ago the Justice Department was not ready to move forward with the drug trafficking sentence reductions, but now has changed their minds entirely.
The fact that no attorney general has done this before is striking. Because the Commission did vote in favor and because Congress likely will as well, Holder may get off easy. Even if his moves were disrespectful, he still moved in the popular direction. Calculated and conniving? I’ll let you decide.