Politics

Sen. Rand Paul has once again filed a bill that would allow judges to have more discretion when imposing sentences on those convicted of federal crimes, though he says the bill will have an “uphill battle” gaining support in the White House.

“I think the key really is not the administration so much — although eventually they would weigh in on it,” Paul said during a conference call on Wednesday. “I think the key is in the Senate. This is one of the few things I think we really have good, broad bipartisan support for.”

The legislation would allow judges to impose sentences that are less severe than mandatory minimum sentences currently required by law.

Paul argues that the policy would help reduce the federal prison population and restore “proportionality, fairness, and rationality to federal sentencing.”

The move comes days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious crimes they can pursue — doing away with an Obama-era prosecution policy that sought to ease mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

Paul said he has had conversations with members of President Donald Trump’s administration about the legislation, though he said winning favor won’t be easy.

“I don’t think particularly the attorney general is that sympathetic and really has surprised me a little bit in how aggressively he’s going in the opposite direction,” Paul said.

Along with all Senate Republicans, Paul voted to confirm Sessions to his attorney general post in February.

But Paul has led the offensive against Sessions’ new directive, which he said would “ruin lives.”

Paul has pushed for other reforms to the criminal justice system, including expungement of felony records and restoration of voting rights, though the proposals haven’t garnered enough support to get votes in the Senate.

Paul’s Justice and Safety Valve Act — which has been proposed and stalled in recent years — is co-sponsored by Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky has filed the bill in the U.S. House.

During Wednesday’s conference call, Paul applauded former President Obama for commuting the sentences of people who had been convicted with nonviolent drug crimes that carried mandatory minimum sentences, which Paul called “outrageous.”

“President Obama was very supportive of criminal justice reform,” Paul said. “It didn’t happen and there’s blame to be spread around Congress and some of the executive branch.”

Obama commuted 1,715 sentences during his two terms in office, more than any other president in U.S. history.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.