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218: Obama's Drug Clemency Push Slammed by House GOP Chairman

Goodlatte (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte ripped President Barack Obama’s new plans to grant clemency to potentially thousands of nonviolent drug offenders Wednesday.

The Virginia Republican says Congress, not the president, should determine the length of sentences. But the president has absolute authority under the Constitution to issue pardons — though Obama has to date used that authority sparingly.

The administration has noted that thousands of prisoners could be affected by the drug clemency push, especially those sentenced under laws older and harsher than the guidelines set down in a 2010 sentencing rewrite signed by Obama. If those prisoners were sentenced today, many would already be free.

But Goodlatte ripped the idea.

“In an unprecedented move to dramatically expand the clemency process for federal drug offenders, President Obama has again demonstrated his blatant disregard for our nation’s laws and our system of checks and balances embedded in the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “This new clemency initiative applies to current federal inmates, including drug offenders with prior felony convictions or drug offenders who may have possessed a firearm during the commission of their offense. Members of gangs and drug trafficking organizations could also be eligible for commutation under President Obama’s subjective determination.

“Congress is charged with establishing categories of punishments for federal crimes, not the president. This pattern of President Obama picking and choosing which laws to enforce and which to change according to his whim is an alarming trend that must stop.

“The Justice Department’s mission is to ‘enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law,’ not to re-write the laws and to endanger American communities.”

Obama has also pushed Congress to rewrite sentencing guidelines and reduce mandatory minimum sentences. Bipartisan efforts are under way in both chambers to do so.

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