By David McCabe
Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulRepublicans question Trump's trip to Scotland Hate TV customer service? So does your senator Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySenate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling Bernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate Senate heads toward internet surveillance fight MORE (D-Vt.) revived legislation Wednesday designed to limit the use of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
The bill — the Justice Safety Valve Act — gives federal judges the authority to give sentences lower than the mandatory punishment in certain cases where the sentence violates standards for fair punishment laid out elsewhere in U.S. law.
That means that they would be able to deviate from the mandatory sentences for a variety of reasons, including to address any disparities in the way individuals in the same case are being sentences or if they believe that the sentence does not fit with the severity of the crime.
Currently, federal judges are bound to sentence offenders in compliance with mandatory minimum sentences for each offense — which reform advocates say has led to the unfair application of justice.
“The federal government should get out of the way, and allow local and state judges to do their jobs,” Paul said in a statement.
Under the legislation, the mandatory minimums would remain intact.
Paul has made criminal justice reforms a priority as he considers a possible White House run and looks to broaden the reach of the Republican Party to younger and minority voters.
A growing chorus of critics on the left and the right argue that the mandatory sentences are sending people to prison who are nonviolent and unlikely to prove a threat to public safety. The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world.
The sentences are also higher for particular drug crimes committed more frequently by people of color, contributing to the disproportionate incarceration of black and Hispanic Americans — even though white people use other drugs at a higher rate.
Advocates also praised the bill’s introduction — which comes amid increased discussion in the Senate of passing some form of criminal justice reform.
“This legislation puts Congress back on the path to meaningful, bipartisan sentencing reform,” said Families Against Mandatory Minimums President Julie Stewart in a statement.
The bill marks the first proposal of the new Congress to address mandatory minimums, but it remains unclear if sentencing reform will gain enough traction to clear opposition from several prominent members of the Senate Republican Conference.
Later this year, it is likely that a bill will be reintroduced to change the mandatory sentences themselves. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyDozens of senators push EPA for higher ethanol mandate Civil liberties group mobilizes against surveillance amendment Brother may I? Congress must reform senseless drug regulation MORE (R-Iowa) has expressed an openness to discussing sentencing reform in the committee but opposes the changes himself. Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Senate to vote on two gun bills Senate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling MORE (R-Texas) has proposed a more moderate package of prison reforms but that does not alter the mandatory minimums.