Hatch to Obama: Don’t change sentencing policy unilaterally

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said President Obama doesn’t have the authority to “go it alone” on changing sentencing policies by making more non-violent drug offenders eligible for clemency.

“The President has authority to grant clemency to certain individuals who are no longer dangerous to the community,” Hatch said Monday. “But I hope President Obama is not seeking to change sentencing policy unilaterally.”

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Hatch’s comments came after reports that the Department of Justice will announce new rules this week that could result in a sentence reduction for those serving for non-violent drug charges.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the DOJ wants to recommend as many reduced sentences for the non-violent drug offenders as possible because they “do not pose a threat to public safety.”

The announcement came as part of the administrations plan to reduce sentencing disparities for drug offenders, particularly those sentenced to harsher penalties related to crack cocaine than power cocaine.

DOJ is expecting an increase of applications for presidential clemency as a result of the rule change, but Hatch said the administration has no right to make the change without first going through Congress.

“Congress, not the President, has authority to make sentencing policy,” Hatch said. “[Obama] should continue to work with Congress rather than once again going it alone, and I’m willing to work with the President on these issues.”

Hatch serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees these matters.