Two federal judges on the U.S. Sentencing Commission said Thursday that Attorney General Eric Holder stepped “outside the legal system” and exceeded the authority of the executive branch by sending “improper instruction” to federal prosecutors to reduce drug sentences before they were officially approved by either the commission or Congress.
“I have been surprised at the attorney general’s steps taken to proceed with this reduction outside of the legal system set up and established by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984,” Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, the commission’s vice chair, said during a public hearing in the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington.
“As you all know, the commission in the act is given the authority to promulgate and amend guidelines on a yearly basis. And in the act itself, Congress has preserved its right to reject any potential promulgation of, or amendment to, any guidelines made by the commission itself after the commission has acted. …
Judge William Pryor, who sits on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, also rebuked Holder for preempting the commission.
“Like Judge Hinojosa, I regret that, before we voted on the amendment, the attorney general instructed assistant United States attorneys across the nation not to object to defense requests to apply the proposed amendment in sentencing proceedings going forward,” Pryor said.
“That unprecedented instruction disrespected our statutory role ‘as an independent commission in the judicial branch’ to establish sentencing policies and practices under the Sentencing Reform Act and the role of Congress, as the legislative branch, to decide whether to revise, modify, or disapprove our proposed amendment.