If Jeff Sessions was expecting applause for his bid to revive the war on drugs last Friday, he’s not hearing much of it from Congress. On Capitol Hill today, members from both sides of the aisle expressed their displeasure with the Sessions sentencing memo, which effectively withdrew a signature part of President Obama’s “Smart on Crime” initiative. That initiative sought to target the most serious crimes, while reducing the number of defendants charged with nonviolent drug offenses that would trigger mandatory minimum sentences.
Sessions new directive for federal prosecutors across the country is this: Charge suspects with the most serious offense you can prove in court.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), known for his libertarian views, was among the first to raise his voice against Sessions’ new order.
“Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long,” Paul said. “Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice. Instead, we should treat our nation’s drug epidemic as a health crisis and less as a lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key problem.”
Today I released the following statement in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. pic.twitter.com/P3uo04xF0M
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 12, 2017
Among Democrats, the responses have been almost uniformly negative. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said that the new policy will cause costs to skyrocket and have a destructive effect on communities.
“It’s no coincidence that the Sessions memo was quietly signed on the same day the President was making major headlines for firing FBI Director Comey because of his investigation of Trump — this policy is unjust and unwise and can’t withstand even minimal public scrutiny,” Durbin said. Sessions held a news conference on the new policy earlier Friday. Trump has said he decided to fire Comey because the President thought he was doing a bad job and for being a “showboat.”
Other Congress members also took to Twitter. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) tweeted out his thoughts:
This is wrong. DOJ should focus on prosecuting violent criminals, not nonviolent drug offenders. We must reform our criminal justice system. https://t.co/JuD4BDndlc
— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) May 12, 2017
Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) recorded a video about Sessions’ move.
Jeff Sessions is trying to start the War on Drugs 2.0 – and that's unacceptable.
We must fight back. pic.twitter.com/PleIHBtmfA
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBookerOffice) May 15, 2017
Former Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t hold back: “The policy announced today is not tough on crime,” he said. “It is dumb on crime. It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”
There were a few who agreed with the move, among them Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who offered praise for Sessions’ action, saying “law enforcement should side with the victims of crime rather than its perpetrators.”
My statement applauding the DOJ's decision to return to previous drug prosecution policies: https://t.co/Zkw8wLQJJM
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) May 15, 2017