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When President Bush announced on July 2 that he would commute the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr., he stated, “I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive.” Taking him at his word that the jury was correct in finding Libby guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice, we find it difficult to understand why this sentence, out of the thousands issued by federal courts in recent years, merits commutation. Bush’s administration, after all, was a strong proponent of the Feeney Amendment, which the president signed into law in 2003. That provision was intended to limit what some members of Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice viewed as judges’ increasing use of downward departures under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Sentencing Commission guidelines issued in accordance with the amendment essentially required judges to apply sentencing formulas coldly and mathematically, and sharply limited their discretion to take into account such individual factors as family circumstances and aberrant behavior. The U.S. Supreme Court effectively voided much of the Feeney Amendment in 2005 when it issued its decision making the sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory in U.S. v. Booker. Still, most judges do rely heavily on the guidelines when making sentencing decisions. The sentence Judge Reggie B. Walton imposed on Libby was well within the guidelines, and in line with sentences in similar cases; Bush has made no credible argument for why Libby’s sentence was excessive. Further, in voicing concern over the suffering of Libby’s family, Bush relied on an argument that his administration has opposed when it comes to sentencing other convicted felons. Clearly, his decision, while permitted under the Constitution, flies in the face of any concept of equal justice under the law. We can only conclude that, at best, the president engaged in an act of favoritism toward a former member of his administration. This decision will no doubt have the effect of further eroding public confidence in the rule of law.

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