How a dumb, ugly bill becomes a law: this time for real

TalkLeft summarizes the state of play on the Feeney Amendment, which, by placing procedural and reporting burdens on downward, but not upward, departures from the sentencing guidelines (except to downward departures granted to informants) would effectively convert all Federal sentences into mandatory minimum sentences at the guideline level. An obviously appalling idea in terms of (1) justice (2) the efficient use of prison space (3) the division of responsibility between the legislature and the courts and (4) process (no hearings, no significant public debate: I, for example, heard about it for the first time yesterday, and the bill is already in conference). It’s an excellent filibuster candidate. And the Republicans are praying that the Democrats will fall into the trap, giving them a chance to run against “soft on crime” one more time. This is truly horrible public policy, but if it can’t be killed quietly in conference I’m not sure I’d want the Democrats to self-immolate over it. If the public actually understood how things worked, including how stiff the guideline sentences are, I doubt there would be anything like majority support for this nonsense. I’m pretty hawkish on crime, and it turns my stomach. But as a candidatek I’d hate to explain to the voters why I voted against reining in those criminal-coddling judges.

[This earlier post contains a theoretical exposition of why voters often punish legislators for voting against that the voters themselves aren’t really for.]


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: