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ASHCROFT BEARS BLAME TOO To the editor: While I agree with much in Evan P. Schultz’s column ” Who’s Hard on Sentencing?” in the Aug. 18 issue of Legal Times["Controversies & Cases," Page 62], one thing moved me to write. Schultz seems to chide critics of Attorney General John Ashcroft for blaming him “after the fact” for congressional directives to the Justice Department contained in the Feeney Amendment. We miss the mark, Schultz says, because the Feeney Amendment was “duly passed by Congress.” That implies that the Feeney Amendment was considered fully by our elected representatives. In fact, the normal congressional deliberative process was manipulated as part of the effort to ensure the passage of what, as originally proposed, threatened the near elimination of independent federal judicial discretion. First, the Feeney Amendment was, according to sponsor Rep. Thomas Feeney, a first-term Republican from Florida, written by current and former members of the Justice Department. Next, it was attached to the House version of the very popular Amber Alert bill after passage of the Senate version � without the sentencing provisions. The abduction and widely publicized return of Elizabeth Smart gave wings to the Amber Alert bill. The Feeney Amendment was never presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee and had only the briefest of debates in the House. The sentencing provisions were repeatedly characterized as correcting sentencing of people who endangered children, when in fact they, as originally drafted, reached much further. Only the concerted efforts of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and others in the conference committee eliminated the most egregious attacks on discretion contained in the original version of the Feeney Amendment. Why did sponsors use such evasive tactics, attaching the amendment to a bill guaranteed to pass? The outpouring of revulsion to the Ashcroft memorandum (which is, as Schultz points out, something of a red herring) might provide some clues about how the amendment would have been received had the American people and our representatives been given the chance to review and debate the amendment in the full deliberative process. As a result of the Feeney Amendment, today the U.S. Sentencing Commission is charged with amending the federal Sentencing Guidelines by the end of October to “substantially reduce” the incidence of downward departures. Not to give Congress a pass on its responsibility for the state of federal sentencing, but the Ashcroft Justice Department and its allies in Congress manipulated the process and have much to answer for. Mary Price General Counsel Families Against Mandatory Minimums Washington, D.C.

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