Demand hearings on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015

Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calls the newly introduced Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (SRCA) “a landmark piece of legislation.” Julie Stewart, the president of an anti-mandatory minimums organization, calls it, correctly, “the most significant sentencing reform legislation in a generation.”

So when do the hearings on this momentous act begin? Never, it appears — unless the demand for them becomes irresistible.

As I noted last night, the New York Times is reporting that a vote by the Judiciary Committee may occur in less than three weeks. This would leave no time for hearings. And I’m hearing that this is exactly what the “gang” of Senators who drafted this legislation (behind closed doors) wants — no hearings.

Their approach is understandable. The “gang” of Senators pushing this legislation has decided how things will be and they don’t want any meaningful discussion. Moreover, with rising crime rates and a worsening heroin epidemic, it’s almost certain that the public doesn’t favor releasing drug offenders and other criminals, which is what the SRCA would do. Hence the need to rush this legislation through with as little scrutiny and publicity as possible.

The rush is unacceptable. Chuck Schumer (one of the co-sponsors) has described the sentencing and prison reform issue as a kind of Rubik’s Cube with lots of interlocking and moving parts. Surely, a problem this complex is worthy of the kind of discussion that proper hearings would entail and their absence would preclude.

Professor Douglas Berman, a leading proponent of sentencing reform, writes:

The full bill, which runs 141 pages and is available at this link, has so many notable parts; I am already struggling to figure out what is what and to assess the good, the bad and the ugly of what can be found in this massive legislative proposal. Moreover, without some basic (and not-so-basic) data about how many past, present and future federal cases could be readily impacted by various provisions, it is hard to know which are the most consequential elements of the bill from just a basic reading to the SRCA text.

Apparently, it is impossible from a reading of the bill to answer, for example, even the basic question of how many criminals, approximately, would be freed from jail under the provisions of the SRCA that would be made retroactive.

Accordingly, Berman has called on the U.S. Sentencing Commission to “help[] all of us fans of federal sentencing reform better figure out whether and how the different-colored pieces of the proposed SRCA 2015 match up.” Whatever one thinks of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, surely Berman has made a strong case for Senate hearings on this legislation.

I therefore urge readers who agree with this case to call on Chairman Grassley and other Republican members of the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings. Do they support transparency or not?

Grassley’s office can be reached at (202) 224-3744.

The other Republican members are:

Orin Hatch (202) 224-5251
Jeff Sessions (202) 224-4124 (I’m pretty confident he would favor hearings)
Lindsey Graham (202) 224-5972
John Cornyn (202) 224-2934
Michael Lee (202) 224-5444
Ted Cruz (202) 224-5922
Jeff Flake (202) 224-4521
David Vitter (202) 224-4623
David Perdue (202) 224-3521
Thom Tillis (202) 224-6342

If you have a moment, please let us know what response you get.