“Let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” – Update for December 26, 2017

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


cromwell171226Oliver Cromwell threw out the Rump Parliament with criticism that seems altogether contemporary, given the diatribes that come from the Right against the Left and the Left against the Right. But we tend to be single-issue voters, so our interest is not so much pro-Trump or anti-Trump as it is pro-common sense on sentencing reform.

A few weeks ago, we reported that Rex Tillerson might get dumped as Secretary of State, a matter of little importance to most of us except that the shuffling that might occur as a result would move Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) to the CIA.

For those of you who yawned at our report on Potomoc machinations, the following report may explain our enthusiasm for moving Sen. Cotton as far from a vote on sentencing reform as he can get. Legislation that would update and overhaul the nation’s juvenile justice system has stalled over a single Republican senator’s concern over whether youths should be locked up for low-level status offenses. The bills, already passed in the House and Senate (and now in conference committee to smooth out differences), have come to a screeching halt because of one senator – Tom Cotton.

kidsjail171226Sen. Cotton likes seeing children thrown into kiddie jail, and he has thus long opposed measures that would keep youthful offenders from being locked up for violating piddling offenses like curfew and school attendance. In fact, he was able to see that the Senate version of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act did not soften laws that jailed minors for insignificant offenses. But the House version phases out all incarceration for such “status offenses” — including judicial orders — over the next three years.

Now, Sen. Cotton has refused to let the very bipartisan bill go to conference without a guarantee that the status offenses provision is a dead issue. “We have to get around Cotton, who won’t move,” said Marcy Mistrett, chief executive officer of the Campaign for Youth Justice, which supports the House bill. “He’s been very clear on that.”

Staffers for Reps. Jason Lewis (R-Minnesota) and Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) have been working to resolve Sen. Cotton’s concerns, a GOP House aide said.

Rep. Lewis and co-sponsor Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), “are encouraging the Senate to move quickly to conference so that we can iron out the small differences between the two bills, and get the president a bill with vital reforms to the juvenile justice system.”

cotton171226That, in a nutshell, is why Sen. Cotton, who was opposed to the Sentence Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 a year ago, is so toxic to the chances of sentencing reform in the next few months. New York Times columnist and curmudgeonly conservative William Safire once was criticized for calling President Nixon a pimple on the ass of progress. He apologized, admitting that his description was wrong. “I should have said ‘boil’,” he ruefully admitted.

Thus to Sen. Cotton.

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Sen. Cotton Blocking Juvenile Justice Update Bill from Conference Committee (Dec. 15, 2017)

– Thomas L. Root


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