Rand Paul should have seen how bad Jeff Sessions was going to be as Attorney General. The warning signs were there and everyone saw them. The Kentucky Senator should have voted against confirmation even though doing so would have risked President Trump nominating someone worse. He didn’t, and now he’s trying to make up for that oversight. Rand Paul has been the leading critic of Jeff Sessions’ instruction for federal prosecutors to pursue mandatory minimums more forcefully. In fact, he will even be reintroducing legislation that would allow federal judges to avoid using mandatory minimums altogether.
The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2015 is a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate (S. 353) by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). An identical version of the bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 706) by Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY). The bill, if passed, would create a brand-new, broad “safety valve” that would apply to all federal crimes carrying mandatory minimum sentences. If passed, the Justice Safety Valve Act would allow judges to sentence federal offenders below the mandatory minimum sentence whenever that minimum term does not fulfill the goals of punishment and other sentencing criteria listed at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).
Put simply, the Justice Safety Valve Act (soon to be “of 2017”) allows federal judges to freedom to sentence based on the individual merits of each case. They would no longer have to abide by a one size fits all dictate and impose a mandatory minimum sentence. The section of the U.S. code referenced there allows for a variety of additional factors that can mitigate sentence length. Judges will once again have the leeway they need to render appropriate judgments. This will negate any previous action taken by Jeff Sessions. Rand Paul’s bill would effectively tie his hands regarding mandatory minimums.
While this legislation isn’t a complete repeal of the laws that created mandatory minimums it is a major step towards eventually accomplishing that goal. Rand Paul has all the more reason to work towards that endgame with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. The pair will be in constant conflict over the next four years on the issue of mandatory minimums and more. Fortunately, Rand Paul will be able to use Jeff Sessions as a foil with which to promote legislation that will increase liberty thereby making the best of a bad situation.