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Rand Paul 'Surprised' By Sessions' Support for Harsher Sentencing, Won't Stop Fighting for Reform

Paul, Leahy, and Merkley have reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act and think "we could get the president to sign it."

PaulJeff Malet Photography/NewscomKentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a supporter of bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts, said that even though Attorney General Jeff Sessions' sudden lurch rightward on mandatory minimums caught him off guard, nothing is going to stop the most libertarian Republican member of the Senate from trying to pass a lenient sentencing bill.

To that end, he and two of his Democratic colleagues have reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act, a bipartisan bill that would allow judges to sidestep mandatory minimum requirements if certain extenuating circumstances apply.

Still, Sessions' apparent change of opinion on sentencing is dismaying, said Paul.

"Really, it surprised me how much [Sessions] is going in the opposite direction," Paul told Reason in an interview.

Late last week, Sessions announced new instructions for prosecutors: he wants them to pursue the harshest possible sentence for a given crime. He said that federal attempts to change sentencing recommendations amount to "micromanagement from Washington."

As Reason's Matt Welch reported earlier, this came as a profound disappointment to Paul, who believes mandatory minimum sentences prevent judges and juries from exercising leniency in cases that merit it. On Friday, Paul released a statement criticizing Sessions' new approach, which will "accentuate that injustice," according to Paul.

Paul voted to confirm Sessions as attorney general, in part because he thought he had extracted certain guarantees from the former Alabama senator: that Sessions did not believe the president had the legal authority to authorize drone strikes against American non-combatants on U.S. soil, and also, that Sessions would not attempt to bring back harsh sentencing.

When asked if Paul would attempt to talk to the administration about harsh sentencing and dissuade Sessions from his new course, the senator explained that he believes the best option is the legislative one: Paul and Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy (VT) and Jeff Merkley (OR) have reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would give federal judges more flexibility when it comes to sentencing.

"I don't think the attorney general is that sympathetic," said Paul. "I think the greater likelihood is getting enough momentum… if something made it out of the Senate in a bipartisan way."

Paul maintained that he has participated in conversations that give him confidence the president could support a reform bill like the Justice Safety Valve Act if it passed Congress.

"We could get the president to sign it," he said.

In an op-ed for CNN, Paul wrote:

I urge the attorney general to reconsider his recent action. But even more importantly, I urge my colleagues to consider bipartisan legislation to fix this problem in the law where it should be handled. Congress can end this injustice, and I look forward to leading this fight for justice.

For more about the damage wrought by mandatory minimums, go here.

Photo Credit: Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    With Leahy attached to that legislation, I would read it over very carefully before signing on.

  • chipper me timbers||

    ^This

  • Mickey Rat||

    If judges are to have full discretion, why have laws written by the legislature?

    Our sysyem if government is supposed to work by the branches pushing back on each other.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Jeff Sessions.... please have a fatal heart attack.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You're lucky Preet's not around anymore, mister.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    "Don't Come Around Here No More" is such a versatile song. It can be used to express our feelings about Preet or our feelings about Crusty reading Lena Dunham articles in our bathroom.

  • Juice||

    I was hoping for some kind of spectacular public assassination, but your way works too.

  • chipper me timbers||

    Sessions is by FAR the worst thing to come out of the Trump presidency so far.

    But by all means Media whores, let's keep talking about Flynn and Comey and incomprehensible tweeting.

  • ||

    Yeah, if Trump were smart, he'd stick Sessions out on the Whitehouse lawn as official garden gnome to scare off varmits.

  • ||

    STFU, shreek.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Rand Paul voted for Jeff Sessions hoping that he wouldn't be as bad the Democrats said he would be. Rand Paul was dumb. Sessions is a racist, pure and simple. He wants to deport, lock up, or get rid of as many non-whites as he can. The rest can stay if they behave themselves and do a good job with his laundry.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Thank you for that fine example of the unserious dumbassery that worked so well during the confirmation hearings to distract from Sessions's actual, terrible flaws, Anal Van-Man.

  • chemjeff||

    I don't like Sessions, and I doubt he is a racist. It's not even necessary to go there in order to object to the things he is doing.

  • WakaWaka||

    And this is exactly why people voted to confirm Sessions. The racism accusation was so farcical that it was practically an endorsement

  • Tony||

    Nonracists don't act like whiny children if they're called racists.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    Totally, man. Defending yourself from a horrific accusation is something that only guilty people do. You and these law-and-order neocons must see eye to eye on a lot of this criminal justice stuff

  • ||

    Rand, I still think you're the best Senator, but WTF? Where the hell have you been that this would surprise you coming from Sessions? He's been talking this pro-drug war shit ever since Trump made the mistake of making him AG.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Maybe Rand's hearing aid was on the fritz and he didn't hear Sessions saying those things? I don't know.

  • Calidissident||

    Hell he's been saying these things for years before he was ever considered for AG. I really don't see how Rand could have been surprised by this unless he had a personal blindspot for Sessions as a fellow Republican Senate colleague. But he's been willing to clash with other GOP senators like McCain and Graham, so I don't get what blinded him about Sessions.

  • Giving up||

    Of course it isn't a violent crime. Even though the Government considers POT to be illegal doesn't mean that it is. A violent crime would be murdering someone and that usually doesn't happen when you use POT. If anything it makes peace. If pot was legal then there wouldn't be any pot drug dealings going wrong cause there wouldn't be any need to go thru a drug dealer. Just my opinion, I respect yours as well.

  • Steve-O||

    I think you failed to detect the sarcasm. Anyway, pot's mollifying tendencies are one of the main reasons I stopped smoking it. Once, when I was stoned, I got into a verbal altercation with a very large and very assholey man. I realized that if things got physical I was about to be pretty well defenseless.

  • brady949||

    "Attorney General Jeff Sessions' sudden lurch rightward on mandatory minimums"

    Shouldn't that say "entirely predictable" rather than "sudden?"

  • Juice||

    Hey, Rand. How about slipping in a little something eliminating immunity for cops, DAs, and judges when they abuse their power?

  • UVaGrad||

    How actually factually stupid is Rand Paul to be "surprised" that Jeff Sessions loves mandatory minimums and charging to the fullest extent possible?

  • Fk_Censorship||

    He's a politician. He's not stupid, but pretends to be when it suits his needs.

  • YourMom||

    so, he's the only person on the planet shocked by this?

  • HenryC||

    It is support for the law as it is written. If the law had lesser sentences, Sessions would be doing those. The fact is, it is not Sessions that is the problem, it is the law itself. It really needs congressional action.

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