Justice Department

  • November 14, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Sam Kamin, Director, Constitutional Rights & Remedies Program and Professor, Sturm College of Law, University of Denver


    With the passage of marijuana legalization initiatives in Washington and Colorado, the long-simmering cold war between state and federal marijuana policy threatens to break out into open hostilities. While eighteen states plus the District of Columbia now permit marijuana for medical purposes, only Washington and Colorado have taken the bolder step of both repealing entirely their marijuana prohibitions for small amounts of the drug and requiring their state legislatures to begin regulating a retail, recreational marijuana industry by the end of 2013.

    Everything now depends on the response of the federal government. Notwithstanding changing policy in the states, marijuana remains on the DEA’s list of Schedule I narcotics, those drugs whose manufacture and sale are strictly prohibited. Thus, every transaction in every medical marijuana state throughout the country constitutes a federal crime. The Justice Department has grudgingly accepted the medical marijuana industry thus far; while there have been some federal raids on these businesses, they have generally been permitted to operate, notwithstanding their open flouting of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

    In 2010, when the state of California considered Proposition 19 which would have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued voters in that state a strong warning. He made clear that the federal government would “vigorously enforce” the provisions of the CSA in the state if voters passed the Proposition. After having an early lead in polls, the measure eventually lost.

  • April 14, 2010

    By Margaret Love, who now represents applicants for pardon and commutation. Love previously served as U.S. Pardon Attorney under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 
    At a recent oral argument in a case involving the crack cocaine sentencing guidelines, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Assistant Solicitor General Leondra Kruger, "Does the Justice Department ever make recommendations that prisoners like this have their sentence commuted?"

    It was a question that stumped Ms. Kruger. The answer should have been "not very often."

    On second thought, make that "hardly ever."

    The prisoner was Percy Dillon, sentenced in 1993 to 27 years in prison for trafficking in crack cocaine. Dillon was asking the Court to decide whether the U.S. Sentencing Commission had acted properly in limiting courts' ability to modify previously-imposed sentences in the wake of Congress' 2007 reduction in the crack guidelines. If Dillon lost his case, he would spend another three years in prison.

    Dillon seemed to strike Justice Kennedy as a particularly appealing candidate for clemency: his sentencing judge had called his original sentence "unfair" and "entirely too high," and Dillon had spent 16 years compiling an impressive prison record of educational outreach to fellow inmates and at-risk youth in the community.

    Getting no answer from the government to his question about the frequency of the Justice Department's clemency recommendations, Justice Kennedy observed that there had been no sentence commutations in 2009 and only five the year before. "Does this show that something is not working in the system?"

  • March 29, 2010

    The Justice Department is firing back at opponents of domestic trials for terrorism-related crimes with a comprehensive list of successful prosecutions dating back to President George W. Bush's administration.

    Greg Sargent broke the story at The Plum Line

    Now, in its most comprehensive pushback to date, the Justice Department has produced a detailed accounting of hundreds of such prosecutions in chart form. It was sent over by a source and can be viewed right here.

    Former Bush flack Dana Perino recently said the claim of hundreds of prosecutions is "as false as it gets." And GOP Senator Jeff Sessions dismissed it as "unsubstantiated."

    At TAPPED, Adam Serwer surveys the list's contents

    The names are shifted into two categories: Category I, which includes "violations of federal statutes that are directly related to international terrorism and that are utilized regularly in international terrorism matters," and Category II, which includes "defendants charged with violating a variety of other statutes where the investigation involved an identified link to international terrorism." There are 403 names on the list, dating back to 2001.

  • January 19, 2010
    The Washington Post reported this morning that between 2002 and 2006 the FBI "illegally collected more than 2,000 telephone records ... by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist or simply persuading phone companies to provide records, according to internal bureau memos and interviews." The Post noted that a Justice Department inspector general report due this month is likely to conclude that the spy agency "frequently violated the law with its emergency requests, bureau officials confirmed." TalkLeft has a detailed account of the newspaper's reporting on the illegally obtained phone records here.

    The newspaper continued, "Documents show that senior FBI managers up to the assistant director level approved the procedures for emergency requests of phone records and that headquarters officials often made the requests, which persisted for two years after bureau lawyers raised concerns and an FBI official began pressing for changes."