U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder let loose some of is renowned arrogance Tuesday. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, House Republicans blasted his Justice Department for patently ignoring criminal sentencing laws, specifically surrounding the legalization of marijuana.
A notably shaken Holder declared both the president and attorney general have "a vast amount" of discretion in prosecuting laws on the books, The Hill reported. Surveying the room he quickly realized he had gone too far and back stepped the comments.
Holder said, "But that discretion has to be used in an appropriate way so that your acting consistent with the aims of the statute but at the same time making sure that you are acting in a way that is consistent with our values, consistent with the Constitution and protecting the American people."
That did little to soothe the anger Republicans on the committee showed.
Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va, ridiculed Holder’s royal statement sayings such "selective non-enforcement" is tantamount to ignoring the law. "The Justice Department’s decision not to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in states whose laws violate federal law is not a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion, but a formal department-wide policy of selective non-enforcement of an Act of Congress."
The disagreement with Holder stems from his "Smart on Crime" initiative. That program has altered charging policies involving mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent, low-level drug crimes.
Holder believes it is “his discretion” to do so. Holder explained it to the committee by saying, "This commonsense change will ensure that the toughest penalties are reserved for the most dangerous or violent drug traffickers.”
But is it his choice to do so?
Goodlatte retorted to Holder angrily pointing out that the changes put federal prosecutors at odds with the law. “The attorney general’s directive, along with contradicting an act of Congress, puts his own front-line prosecutors in the unenviable position of either defying their boss or violating their oath of candor to the court," he said.
Members of the committee, like Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, are in favor of Holder’s changes. Conyers pointed out that half of the federal inmates serving time are there for drug offenses.
Republicans were not through grilling Holder. Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Chabot created the hearings’ tensest moments accusing the attorney general and the Obama administration of illegally delaying the Obamacare employer mandate. It was Chabot’s contention the executive branch had no authority to delay the mandate.
After Chabot castigated Holder, the attorney general responded weakly, "The president has the duty, obviously, to follow the law; it would depend on the statute and statutory interpretation of the law.”
The hearing ended with a rattled and flushed Holder stammering such topics should not be publicly discussed.
That was the last word for the committee’s hearing with a member of the “most transparent administration in history.”
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