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Grassley Statement on Justice Department’s Usurpation of Legislative Authority, Disregard for Statutes as Written on Cocaine Prosecutions

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued the following statement about Attorney General Merrick Garland’s instructions to federal prosecutors to disregard federal criminal statutes for crack and powder cocaine cases.
“The attorney general’s guidance to prosecutors today is baffling and misguided. Not only does this instruction demand that prosecutors ignore the text and spirit of federal statutes, it undermines legislative efforts to address this sentencing disparity.
“A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including myself, just recently came to an agreement on statutory changes that could possibly be included in the year-end funding bill. That hard-won compromise has been jeopardized because the attorney general inappropriately took lawmaking into his own hands. The administration could have engaged in the real and lasting legislative process, but opted for flimsy guidance that will disintegrate when this administration leaves office.
“To be clear, our nation’s chief law enforcement official is pushing his subordinates to flagrantly disregard our laws. The first duty of the Department of Justice is to faithfully execute the laws passed by Congress. We are in a moment of public concern about crime and demoralization among law enforcement. This is the wrong decision for the Justice Department.”
Grassley has been a longtime advocate for a fairer criminal sentencing system and broad criminal justice reforms. He was a lead author of the First Step Act of 2018, the once-in-a-generation sentencing and prison reform law that passed under his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s also an author of the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act, which seeks to address the crack-powder sentencing disparity and apply the reductions retroactively, while protecting communities from criminals most likely to reoffend. A potential legislative compromise was struck just yesterday to address the disparity.