Congress Can Rein in the Courts

Article excerpt

Last spring, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) attached an amendment to the Amber Alert child protection measure instructing the United States Sentencing Commission to scrutinize the records of federal judges who habitually impose lenient sentences on criminal offenders. According to Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the amendment was made necessary by the "growing problem of downward departures," or sentences that fall below the minimum prescribed by federal sentencing guidelines.

In his annual review of the federal courts on December 31, 2003, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist "criticized Congress in unusually pointed terms" for passing the amendment, reported the January 1 New York Times. "It seems that the traditional interchange between the Congress and the judiciary broke down," complained Rehnquist. According to Rep. Sensenbrenner, no breakdown occurred: "This disagreement resulted from a policy dispute between Congress and the judiciary and did not result from any breakdown in communication between the branches or a lack of opportunity for judges to express their thoughts on the issue. …