New U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Crack Penalties: A Campaign Issue?

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Call it a trend. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court gave judges the OK to issue more lenient sentences to drug dealers than those mandated in the official federal sentencing guidelines. Last month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the disparity in prison sentences given for possession of crack versus powder cocaine, a problem that has had a disproportionate impact on African-American defendants. Tomorrow, the commission will vote on whether that change ought to apply retroactively. If it says yes, nearly 20,000 prison inmates stand to have their sentences reduced.

All of this is good news for the small-time drug addicts who’ve been given excessive prison sentences for piddly little drug offenses. It’s bad news, though, for Democrats, as it’s about to turn crime into a major campaign issue, and it’s not their strong suit. No surprise, then, that the biggest opponents of retroactively reducing drug sentences, according to the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, are the Bush Justice Department, Republicans on the House judiciary committee, and Sen. Hillary Clinton. Yes, Hillary has thrown her lot in with the law and order types in the GOP, largely on the advice, apparently, of her pollster Mark Penn. Penn told The Politico last week that former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani was already using the change in sentencing to bash the other Democratic candidates, all of whom support retroactivity.

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