Ron Weich, whose nomination to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs is slated to come before the Senate this week, will recuse himself from all matters involving mandatory sentencing policies, according to an answer Weich gave to written questions by then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.)
Specter, who switched his party affiliation to Democratic on Tuesday, had asked Weich to explain his views on mandatory sentencing in a follow-up to his April 2 confirmation hearing. Weich, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, responded that he opposes mandatory sentences, but added:
At the outset, please note that if confirmed I intend to recuse myself from legislation concerning mandatory minimums because my wife …. is president of an organization that advocates against mandatory sentencing. I have already consulted with Department of Justice ethics officials to establish a recusal protocol for such matters.
Weich’s wife is Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Stewart started FAMM in 1991, according to her biography on its Web site, after her brother was sentenced to five years in prison for growing marijuana in his garage in Washington state.
That gives Weich a personal connection to an issue he could be dealing with as the DOJ’s liaison to Congress. Social conservatives remain opposed to legalizing pot, but support for changing laws that are now widely flouted appears to be gaining momentum, especially with U.S. demand for the leaf driving a bloody Mexican drug war on our doorstep. Holder said in February the DOJ would no longer raid medical marijuana dispensers in states where such use is legal.
UPDATE: Criminal Division head Lanny Breuer testified on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in favor of ending sentencing disparities for crack and power cocaine offenses. Weich’s wife’s organization put out a press release hailing the initiative. Read it here.