Debra J. Saunders

Oddly, as the bench is voicing increasing anger toward federal sentences, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is pushing for harsher terms. His department plans to challenge more "downward departures" from sentencing guidelines. He supported a measure signed by President Bush to allow appellate courts to lengthen sentences issued by federal judges. In response, Chief Justice William Rehnquist -- no leftie -- said the Feeney amendment will "seriously impair the ability of courts to impose just and responsible sentences," The Wall Street Journal reported.

What next? Life, plus?

Kennedy is the perfect critic because he has kept his politics out of his rulings. For example, he voted with the majority to uphold California's "three strikes" law. But then he warned the ABA: "It is a grave mistake to retain a policy just because a court finds it constitutional. Courts may conclude the legislature is permitted to choose long sentences, but that does not mean long sentences are wise and just."

"It is the duty of the American people," Kennedy said, "to begin the discussion at once." He urged lawyers to push for presidential and gubernatorial pardons.

In the case of Clarence Aaron, Kennedy's plea is most eloquent, and one I hope President Bush heard and takes to heart: "This young man has not served his full sentence, but he has served long enough. Give him what only you can give him. Give him another chance."

Debra J. Saunders

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