Third, Congress has given Ellis the power to give people like Manafort a break, but has denied him that power when the defendant is accused of many blue-collar crimes. Last year, Ellis sentenced a 37-year-old man named Frederick Turner to 40 years in federal prison for methamphetamine distribution. He had no choice: Congress passed laws making 40 years the mandatory minimum sentence.
More than half of federal prisoners received a mandatory minimum sentence. Congress has passed mandatory minimum laws for drugs, guns, child abuse, and child porn. President Trump pushed for harsher mandatory minimum laws for immigration cases. These laws reflect America’s judgment about which people are so irredeemable that federal judges should not have the discretion to show them the sort of lenience Ellis showed Manafort. That judgment favors the rich at the expense of the poor.