Is Congress poised to bury its longtime “tough on crime” stance, David Dagan and Steven Teles of Johns Hopkins University ask in the Washington Monthly. The Obama administration has taken advantage of the thaw in “tough on crime” politics via Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech declaring that federal prosecutors would exempt some low-level offenders from mandatory minimum sentences.
The authors warn that the administration “should be wary of moving too far ahead of Congressional Republicans, lest it undermine the emerging consensus.” Conservative support for sentencing reform is crucial. Republicans control the House and Democrats who might otherwise fear being tarred with the “soft on crime” label need cover. More Republican stalwarts will have to come out in favor of reform in the next few weeks, or the cause could be set back if reform acquires a reputation as an Obama agenda item, say Dagan and Teles. Some Republicans grumble that Holder's bypassing mandatory-minimum laws for some offenders was only the latest in a line of unilateral administration actions usurping Congressional authority.