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Holder Wants Tea Party Senators' Help to Stop Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing

Companion legislation in the House was introduced at the end of October by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). It has 15 bipartisan co-sponsors.

"Thanks to the leadership of Senators Durbin and Lee – along with Chairman Patrick Leahy and Senator Rand Paul – it’s clear that these and similar proposals enjoy bipartisan support on Capitol Hill," Holder said.

"These reforms would advance the goals of the Smart on Crime initiative – and other efforts that are currently underway – by fundamentally improving policies that exacerbate, rather than alleviate, key criminal justice challenges," he added. "And such legislation could ultimately save our country billions of dollars in prison costs while keeping us safe."

In September, Paul testified before the Judiciary Committee that arrests under mandatory minimum sentencing laws have been so lopsided "because it is easier to go into urban areas and make arrests than suburban areas."

"If I told you that one out of three African-American males is forbidden by law from voting, you might think I was talking about Jim Crow 50 years ago," Paul said. "Yet today, a third of African-American males are still prevented from voting because of the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs has disproportionately affected young black males."

"…It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that it’s easier to round up, arrest and convict poor kids than it is to convict rich kids."

Paul said sentencing reform is needed as America's prison population has quadrupled since mandatory minimums began.

"We are not repealing mandatory minimums on the books – we are merely allowing a judge to sentence below a mandatory minimum if certain requirements are met," Paul said. "There is an existing safety valve in current law, yet it is very limited. It has a strict five-part test and only about 23 percent of all drug offenders qualified for the safety valve."

He highlighted one case where a judge had to sentence a 19-year-old to 10 years for conspiracy. "This young man had been in a car where drugs were found," Paul said. "I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure one of us might have been in a car in our youth where someone might’ve had drugs. Before the arrest, this young man was going to be the first in his family to go to college."

"Mandatory minimum sentencing has done little to address the very real problem of drug abuse while also doing great damage by destroying so many lives."

Two weeks ago, Lee pitched the bill in an email to supporters while taking a dig at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for letting such bills fall by the wayside while pushing through the big spending agreements with limited debate or amendments.

"An alliance of tea party enthusiasts and liberal leaders in Congress is pursuing major changes in the country's mandatory sentencing laws. I have been working with Senator Durbin to build bipartisan support for reforming our country's mandatory sentencing laws through a proposal we have introduced. Senators Paul, Leahy, Cornyn, Portman, and Whitehouse have also introduced proposals to address this problem," Lee said.

"Do you think Senator Reid should allow more votes on smaller pieces of legislation like these proposals that enjoy bipartisan support and that are passed through regular order through the committee process, or do you think the country is better served by Congress passing last-minute deals that are thousands of pages long with very little time for public scrutiny?"