This week the Supreme Court reopened the struggle between the courts and Congress over who decides the punishment of criminals. Even in the face of evidence that tougher prison sentences have helped reduce the crime rate, the court ruled that judges should regard congressional guidelines on sentencing as advisory, not mandatory. It seems certain that Congress will consider new rules on sentencing very quickly.
"These guidelines were first passed in 1984. Twenty years later, crime is down. Why throw out a good thing? What do you think the consequences are going to be?"
"It means an end to uniformity in sentences, which was one of the reasons why we imposed guidelines in the first place. Worst of all, I think it's going to mean a congressional over-reaction because Congress is going to come back and find other ways to impose a wider range of minimum sentences on various kinds of federal crime."
"I can understand why judges hate them. They're 1800 pages long and that's really micro-management by Congress. At the same time, under our system of government, I don't think judges are the last word on this subject. The people, through their elected representatives in Congress, surely have a say in how criminals are treated."
"What happened is that Congress went into a bidding war with itself over who was going to look tougher on crime. They basically pulled penalties out of thin air, and that's what's in these guidelines. Frankly, I'm not sorry to see them go."