Sentencing reform clears committee, but may not reach the floor this year [Corrected]

As expected, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (more accurately called the Drug Dealers’ Relief Act) has cleared the Judiciary Committee. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that five members, including Ted Cruz, voted against it. The others were Orin Hatch, Jeff Sessions, David Vitter, and David Perdue.

With five Republican members opposed, it seems unlikely that the bill will make it to the Senate floor this year. The sponsors can be expected to push for it in 2016. But now opponents have months, not weeks, to persuade non-committee members that the legislation is not worthy of their support. Moreover, Republicans may not be inclined, in an election year, to allow liberal judges to free major drug offenders.

Ted Cruz was the key vote in the committee. He has previously supported this general sort of sentencing reform. I understand that he explained his opposition this time around by citing provisions in the bill that provide relief for drug felons who carried guns. It’s possible, then, that the sponsors could obtain his support by eliminating this relief.

It’s worth noting, though, that Cruz has been traveling relentlessly throughout America as he campaigns for the presidency. I suspect he senses how badly releasing drug dealers in the midst of heroin epidemic would be received by the Republican rank-and-file. (New Hampshire has been particularly hard hit by that epidemic).

I don’t know how far into 2016 the Cruz campaign will go. It almost certainly will last, at a minimum, until the “SEC primary” on March 1.

Regardless, Republican Senators should take heed of the lessons I believe Sen. Cruz has learned on the hustings.

NOTE: The original post incorrectly listed Sen. Tillis as a no vote. He voted yes. Sen. Hatch was the fifth “no.”


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