President Joe Biden and others in the Democratic Party have signaled support for a more lenient stance toward punishing certain criminal offenses.
In a unanimous decision this week, however, the U.S. Supreme Court shot down the Biden administration’s broad interpretation of a law that allows for sentence reductions for some low-level offenses.
Details of the case
According to Politico, the justices affirmed a narrow scope based on the law’s wording.
The underlying case originated in Floriday with the 2008 conviction of Tarahrick Terry, who was found guilty of possessing roughly four grams of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute. Due to his status as a repeat offender, he was sentenced to spend roughly 15 years behind bars.
A decade later, the Trump administration enacted the First Step Act, which was geared toward providing leniency and the possibility of sentence reductions for select criminal convictions. Citing this law and the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity in mandatory minimum sentences for possession of crack and powder cocaine, Terry petitioned to have his own sentence reduced.
In an eight-page ruling authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the nation’s highest court determined that the opportunity to seek a reduced sentence was not broadly applicable to all convicted criminals but narrowly focused on two specific provisions dealing with disparate sentences for known quantities of illicit drugs.
Terry, on the other hand, had been convicted under a distinctly different provision that ignored quantity and was based on his prior criminal history.
“The letter and spirit of the law”
For that reason, he was deemed ineligible for a reduced sentence. A federal district court and an appeals court previously agreed with the Trump administration’s position and rejected Terry’s plea for leniency.
When Biden took office, however, it reversed the federal government’s position, prompting the Supreme Court to appoint an outside counsel to argue in its place.
According to the Washington Examiner editorial board, even liberal justices rejected the “lame attempt” to sidestep the actual law and apply it more broadly than it had been intended.
In fact, the board remarked that the unanimous ruling amounted to a “well-deserved and humiliating defeat” for Biden that made it clear that the executive branch is expected to uphold the laws as written.
“If Congress ever decides to make exceptions for career criminals, then Biden is free to be as soft on them as he wants,” the editorial continued. “In the meantime, this case shows even the most liberal justices are serious about following the letter and spirit of the law as it was enacted.”