Holder said he was instructing federal prosecutors to stop using mandatory minimum laws against “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels.”
This is a useful step; an even better approach would be to restore more flexibility to judges. In the Senate, two bipartisan odd couples — Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and Utah Republican Mike Lee, and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul — have introduced measures to give judges more power to override mandatory minimums.
Leahy and Paul describe their broader measure as a “safety valve” in the current, rigid system, and that is a useful metaphor. Because true justice encompasses both rules and discretion; it provides certainty and safety valve.
Ruth Marcus’ email address is email@example.com.