Mike Lee: Mandatory sentencing forces you to ask 'does this punishment fit the crime?'

Mike Lee: Mandatory sentencing forces you to ask 'does this punishment fit the crime?'
© Greg Nash

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe McConnell warns Trump against withdrawing troops from Syria The American people deserve a debate about Ukrainian military aid MORE (R-Utah) on Tuesday urged changes to mandatory minimum sentencing amid the current push for criminal justice reform.

"I do think we need to address our mandatory minimum sentences," Lee, who in the past has been floated as a possible Supreme Court justice nominee, told MSNBC. "Now, I'm not categorically opposed to all of them. You can imagine a mandatory minimum sentence that imposes one day or six weeks or something like that."

"But when we get into a situation where we're routinely imposing, 15, 20,25, sometimes 55-year mandatory minimum sentences, you have to ask yourself the question, does the punishment fit the crime?" he said.


"And are we doing more to harm families and communities and neighborhoods than we are to actually reform people and deter crime?" he asked.

The Utah Republican said the issue is "the center of my disagreement" with Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonBipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats On The Money: Fed officials saw rising risk of recession | Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz blast NBA for 'outrageous' response to China | Prospects dim for trade breakthrough with China Ocasio-Cortez, Ted Cruz join colleagues blasting NBA for 'outrageous' response to China MORE (R-Ark.), the leading Senate opponent of the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that has been backed by the White House. 

"I believe that this legislation would make America more safe, rather than less," Lee said.

Cotton penned an op-ed for National Review on Monday in which he argued that the bill's text was too flawed to be passed by the Senate, despite its strong support from President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE.

Among other things, the senator argued that the bill's list of those charges excluded from obtaining "time credits" that can help bring about a criminal's early release is far from complete.

According to Cotton, felons who committed assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer, assault ending in bodily injury to a spouse or child, a violent carjacking resulting in serious bodily injury, or convicted of trafficking heroin or fentanyl can apply for "time credits."

"These are not low-level, non-violent crimes, nor are they obscure crimes," Cotton argued. "There are dozens of other serious violent crimes, including sex-related offenses, that are missing from the bill’s exclusion list."