The first round of applause for Paul came 10 minutes or so into his prepared remarks, when the junior senator from Kentucky said, “We should not have laws that ruin the lives of young men and women who have committed no violence. That’s why I have introduced a bill to repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences.” Finally: clapping!
The line revealed a neat overlap between civil libertarians and Howard’s Democrat-leaning African American student body. It was also something of an exaggeration.
The bill Paul introduced last month–called the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013–isn’t nearly so expansive as he led his audience to believe. While the act would allow “courts–in some circumstances–to sentence a person below the mandatory minimum if that sentence is too lengthy, unjust or unreasonable, or doesn’t fit the offender or the crime,” it doesn’t require judges to deviate from the mandatory minimum, nor does it entitle offenders who fit the above criteria to an alternative sentence. If it had passed a decade ago, a bill like Paul’s would’ve empowered a federal judge to sentence 24-year-old small-time pot dealer Weldon Angelos to 18 years in prison, instead of the mandatory 55 he received. In other words, people are still going to have their lives ruined by the drug war if Paul’s bill passes.