Legislation that would slash mandatory minimum sentences for drug traffickers has little chance of passing in the final two months of President Obama’s term, and virtually no chance of becoming law under a President Donald Trump.
Trump’s win and his pick of Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general signals a tougher approach to a nationwide heroin epidemic, surging illegal immigration, and an alarming increase in murders.
Sessions has stridently criticized the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (SRCA) since voting against it last October in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
At a May press conference that he organized to oppose the bill, Sessions said:
The Senate bill would drastically reduce mandatory minimum sentences for all drug traffickers, even those who are armed and traffic in dangerous drugs like heroin, and provide for the early release of dangerous drug felons currently incarcerated in federal prison. This bill doesn’t touch simple possession, because there’s virtually no simple possession cases in federal court.
“Have we thought this through?” he added. “There’s no need to weaken these penalties, because they’re already on a route of precipitous decline.”
“Imagine how much better it is that we have considerably fewer people destroying their lives with addictive drugs, considerably fewer high school seniors using drugs,” he said.
The Hill reported that SRCA supporters are worried about Sessions assuming the role of attorney general and becoming a “barrier” to sentencing reductions and other liberal reforms.
Not only is the rewrite likely dead, Sessions may craft legislation that deals more harshly with drug traffickers, often labeled simply as “drug offenders” by sympathetic media, according to one former federal prosecutor.
Bill Otis at the blog Crime and Consequences wrote:
It doesn’t take an especially florid imagination to understand that, with both the House and Senate Republicans having retained their majorities with only minimal reductions; and with the installation of hard-liner President-elect Donald Trump; and with Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions waiting in the wings, sentencing “reform’s” failures in the last Congress will repeat themselves in the incoming Congress (if the “reform” side bothers to introduce a bill at all, a question that remains to be answered).
“Indeed, the more realistic question is whether Attorney General Sessions will craft, and forward to Congress, additional and sterner mandatory minimum statutes to deal with the startling rise in violent crime and the crisis-level heroin trafficking we have seen for about the last 24 months,” he continued.
Cotton was especially insistent in his opposition to the bill, framing it as harmful to American communities and warning that the Obama administration planned to release as many as 70,000 federal inmates without Congress’s help.
“In my view, the kind of policing techniques we’ve developed over the past 25 years, mandatory minimum sentencing laws, three strikes and you’re out laws, and other reforms have been responsible for the incredible decline in crime for the last 25 years,” Cotton said on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Daily in May, after boldly declaring the bill was dead in the Senate.
“Unfortunately, we may now be living through the early stages of a new crime wave. Murders and rapes and other violent crimes are up all across America. The American people say they’re more concerned about crime than they have been any time in the last 15 years. This is not the time to start releasing violent felons from prison,” he continued.
Aside from a handful of Republican senators, such as Chuck Grassley and Mike Lee, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, there is little appetite for lessening sentences for drug trafficking in the GOP. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not pushed for passage of the bill and reportedly favors tougher policies on crime.
In a policy paper ignored by media that loudly insists he has no policies, Trump laid out a detailed plan to combat drug addiction and an increase in trafficking.
Promising to end Democrats’ “open borders” policies that allow drugs to pour into the country, Trump said in late October:
President Obama has commuted the sentences of record numbers of high level drug traffickers, many of them kingpins, and violent armed traffickers with extensive criminal histories. Hillary Clinton promises to continue this approach, turning our streets back over to gangs, drug cartels, and armed career criminals.
A Trump administration will strip federal funding from sanctuary cities shielding illegals, “aggressively prosecute” drug traffickers, deport illegal alien cartel members and drug traffickers, and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. It would also crack down on the shipment of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 100 times stronger than heroin sourced primarily from Mexico and China, restrict the number of opioids manufactured in the U.S., and expand treatment options to help users recover. Trump supports the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a law signed by Obama, which tackles several aspects of drug addiction and treatment at the federal level.
Seized Mexican drug cartel assets will pay for part of the border wall under Trump, who announced at a Florida rally in October, “I have a message for the drug dealers, for the gang members and the criminal cartels: Your days are numbered.”
Trump has not called for easing sentencing on convicted drug traffickers, however, and if anything, will likely offer more help to recovering drug addicts and more severe consequences to those who traffic drugs.