We rag on Attorney General Eric Holder from time to time on this blog. For good reason — he’s been something of an idiot on profiling, miranda, terrorism, etc.. But today he did something praiseworthy, and we’d be out of line if we didn’t say so.
Last August, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act. Although it does have some significant drawbacks, such as actually increasing sentencing for some defendants, the main intent was to try to reduce the insane disparity in federal sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine.
The problem was, this reduction in the sentencing guidelines was not retroactive. It only applied to future cases. People already in prison for crack — even though everyone now agrees their sentences are too long — would have to suck it up and stick it out.
But today, AG Holder testified before the US Sentencing Commission, and told them the new lower sentences should be applied retroactively. “As years of experience and study have shown, there is simply no just or logical reason why their punishments should be dramatically more severe than those of other cocaine offenders,” he said.
Yes. He is, for once, right.
Of course, even when he’s right he can’t help being wrong. Holder wouldn’t let the lower sentences be retroactive if the inmate happened to have a gun at the time of the crime. Or if the inmate had a “significant” criminal history. Apparently, crack really is something that should be sentenced more harshly if you’ve gotten caught possessing or selling it before. There’s no internal logic here, no principle that supports this. If crack crimes are not more serious than equivalent powder crimes, then what justifies enhancing crack but not powder sentences if these other factors exist? Holder’s being disingenuous, trying to appease both the reformers and the “try to look tough on crime” legislators, instead of actually being true to his principles. If he has any.
Still, although he’d be more correct to seek retroactive application across the board, he’s at least doing something right in seeking some retroactivity at all. So here’s some polite golf applause for Eric Holder.