Chairman James Sensenbrenner of the House Judiciary Committee privately demanded last month that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago change a decision in a narcotics case because he didn’t believe a drug courier got a harsh enough prison term, the Chicago Tribune reports. Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), in a five-page letter dated June 23, demanded a “prompt response” from Chief Judge Joel Flaum on what steps Flaum would take “to rectify” a June 16 3-judge panel ruling in the case of a drug courier in a Chicago police corruption case receiving a 97-month prison sentence instead of at least 120 months required by a drug-conspiracy statute.
Jay Apperson, a congressional attorney who brought the ruling to Sensenbrenner’s attention, added: “We can’t have judges violating the law.” The panel amended its ruling to cite a Supreme Court case that showed Sensenbrenner was wrong. David Zlotnick, a law professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and an expert on federal sentencing law, said, “I think it’s completely inappropriate for a congressman to send a letter to a court telling them to change a ruling.” Sensenbrenner’s letter is the latest example of a threat leveled by congressmen unhappy with court decisions, particularly controversial ones such as those in the Terri Schiavo case.