Attorney General Eric Holder and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are two men most Americans don’t expect to see mentioned in the same sentence unless there is a rhetorical battle underway. But an announcement that the Justice Department will soon set out to reform mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenders could present the men a rare collaborative opportunity.
Holder announced Monday that Justice would move forward with a comprehensive prison reform package that includes plans to eliminate mandatory sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no gang or large-scale drug organization affiliations. He also said that the Justice Department would implement policies to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and seek alternatives to prison for other nonviolent offenders.
“We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken,” Holder said. “And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget.”
“A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities,” Holder continued.
Paul has already proposed a bill which would give judges more options to bypass mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. And following the Holder announcement, the Senator expressed interest in working with the Justice Department as it enacts the reforms.
“I look forward to working with them to advance my bipartisan legislation, the Justice Safety Valve Act, to permanently restore justice and preserve judicial discretion in federal cases,” Paul said in a statement. “…The Administration’s involvement in this bipartisan issue is a welcome development. Now the hard work begins to change the law to permanently address this injustice.”
And an anonymous Paul staffer told The Washington Post, “This is already a bipartisan issue, led in the Senate by Sens. Paul, [Patrick] Leahy, [Mike] Lee and [Richard] Durbin … Senator Paul believes strongly in this issue and that we must find a solution. He is pleased to work with all who agree and want to push forward.”
While the Justice Department will initially work through reforms that require no Congressional input, Holder is expected to announce support for Paul’s bipartisan Justice Safety Valve Act.
The rare collaboration of libertarian-leaning Paul and the Obama Justice Department on a set of issues carrying hefty fiscal and social import could further complicate the relationship between the Kentucky Senator and establishment members of the GOP. But it also presents an opportunity for Paul to win the hearts of many people outside of the Republican Party.
That could earn him support from people who are traditionally not Republican fans, as well as those conservative voters who see establishment Republicans like Senators John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) as the reason for many of the Party’s biggest problems.