Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would lay the groundwork for identifying useful crime prevention and intervention programs for state and local law enforcement agencies.
The Prevention Resources for Eliminating Criminal Activity Using Tailored Interventions in Our Neighborhoods Act, dubbed the PRECAUTION Act, would establish a national commission that would act as a resource for state and local officials looking for proven law enforcement strategies.
The nine-member panel, which would include a Justice Department Office of Justice Programs official and crime experts, would draft a report on successful plans for state and local agencies to use. The commission also would identify promising programs that would be tried out in select municipalities using DOJ grant money.
“It is a long name, but it stands for an important principle — that it is better to invest in precautionary measures now than it is to pay the costs of crime — both in dollars and lives — later on,” Feingold said in a Senate floor statement Wednesday.
Feingold said state and local law enforcement officials have called for a resource to find effective crime prevention and intervention programs without sacrificing their limited funds.
“There is particular urgency for this bill as state and federal budget shortfalls continue and state and local law enforcement are forced to do more with fewer resources,” Feingold said. “There is no doubt that money is tight, which makes it all the more important that innovative and cost-effective law enforcement strategies that benefit both public safety and the government bottom line are being used in our communities.”
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) is a co-sponsor of the bill.
Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold
Hearing on “The Office of Professional Responsibility Investigation into the Office of Legal Counsel Memoranda”
Senate Judiciary Committee
As Submitted to the Record
“The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report reminds us in no uncertain terms that John Yoo and Jay Bybee engaged in disgraceful conduct by writing and signing legal memos authorizing torture.
“While much of the information in the OPR report has previously been declassified and discussed in various places, the report is stunning in its recounting of the history of these torture memos. The Department of Justice deserves credit for making available so many documents relating to this report. The report reminds us of the pressure coming from the White House, and particularly the Office of the Vice President, on the CIA’s interrogation program; the extreme legal theories and one-sided presentation of the law that Yoo provided in response; and the extraordinary secrecy with which these issues were handled. Even after the memos signed by Bybee and Yoo in 2002 and 2003 were withdrawn in 2004, subsequent memos went on to authorize what can only be described as acts of torture, including one drafted in 2005 by Steven Bradbury over the objection of Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who also raised concerns that Bradbury was susceptible to pressure because he was hoping to be nominated by the President to be an Assistant Attorney General.
“Those later memos have now been withdrawn, although it’s worth nothing that other controversial memos governing wiretapping remain in effect. The job of reversing the mistaken Bush Administration-era theories of executive power is still not complete.
“As we suspected all along, the OPR report also confirms that the administration pushed to include certain provisions in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 precisely to ‘remove the legal barriers to the CIA program that had been created by the DTA [Detainee Treatment Act of 2005] and Hamdan [v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006)].’ OPR Final Report at 154. Indeed, in 2007, Bradbury issued yet another OLC memo concluding that six ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques the CIA still wanted to use did not violate domestic or international law. It took a new President and a new Attorney General to repudiate both the use of torture and the tortured legal reasoning justifying it.
“I am deeply troubled that one of the architects of this perversion of the law is now sitting on the federal bench. I agree with you that Jay Bybee should step down from his lifetime appointment. I do not see how he can serve as a credible federal judge – someone who is supposed to be an independent decision-maker whose judgment and integrity are beyond question – under these circumstances. His name is now synonymous with an extreme legal analysis that has been repudiated by almost everyone except the few people involved in writing it. I opposed Judge Bybee’s nomination in 2003 because the administration refused to make his OLC opinions available to the committee. He claimed he would uphold the law and follow Supreme Court precedent, but legal memos that would have given this committee a very good window into whether he would fulfill that commitment were withheld. Little did I know at the time what a difference it would have made to see those memos. I have no doubt that had this committee been given access to the OLC opinions it asked for when Judge Bybee was nominated to the Ninth Circuit, he would never have been confirmed.
“I ask that a copy of my floor statement in opposition to Judge Bybee’s nomination dated March 13, 2003, be included in the record of this hearing.
“That brings me to the other issue the OPR report raises: the ongoing problem of secret law. The legal theories in the Bybee and Yoo memos offered the most extreme possible interpretation of presidential power, and failed to present more mainstream views or conflicting arguments. Tragically, there was no judicial or congressional oversight of these interpretations. This is an ongoing problem. We have an executive branch office writing binding legal opinions on issues that often are never adjudicated by any court. Not only that, but that same office treats its own decisions as precedent that can then be cited in future opinions. And many of these decisions remain not only outside the public eye, but also unavailable to congressional oversight committees. When you have an executive branch institution with an inherent bias in favor of executive power and authority to issue binding legal opinions, and little if any opportunity for congressional, judicial or public oversight of its opinions, is it surprising that something like the Bybee and Yoo memos were the result?
“This is exactly why I have pushed for more congressional reporting to Congress on OLC opinions, including the bill that Senator Feinstein and I introduced last Congress, the OLC Reporting Act.
“I want to make one final point. The history of what happened in the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush Administration is exactly why we need to confirm Dawn Johnsen to head that office. She understands the crucial role of the OLC in upholding the rule of law and has championed institutional reforms to make sure that nothing like the Bybee/Yoo memos ever happens again.”
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Legislation that would fund the Justice Department for fiscal year 2010 is one step away from the president’s desk after passing the House today.
The $28 billion DOJ budget is part of the Commerce, Justice, science appropriations bill, which was packaged with several other fiscal year 2010 spending bills this week to make the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2010.
The omnibus bill passed the House by a 221-202 vote. No Republicans voted in favor of the legislation, and nearly 30 Democrats voted against the bill. Republicans expressed concerns about funding increases, according to The Hill. See the House roll call vote here.
The Senate has started debate on the bill. The motion to begin debate was approved by a 56-43 vote. No Republicans voted in favor of the motion. Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Russ Feingold (Wisc.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.) also voted against the motion. See the Senate roll call vote here.
President Barack Obama requested $27 billion for DOJ. The Department received $26 billion for fiscal year 2009.
Senate Democrats introduced legislation Thursday that would establish the same sentencing guidelines for powder cocaine and crack offenses.
The Fair Sentencing Act, sponsored by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and nine other Democrats, would end the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine penalties enacted in the 1980s. The bill would also trigger a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the possession of 500 grams of either of the substances.
The decades-old law gives the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the possession of five grams of crack cocaine as it does for the possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine. Democrats have said the law tends to disproportionately harm blacks, because crack is generally used in poorer urban communities.
“The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has contributed to the imprisonment of African Americans at six times the rate of whites and to the United States’ position as the world’s leader in incarcerations,” Durbin said in a statement. “Congress has talked about addressing this injustice for long enough; it’s time for us to act.”
The cosponsors of the bill are Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Judiciary crime and drugs subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Judiciary panel members Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) and Al Franken (D-Min.) Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) are also cosponsors.
The Justice Department supports Congress’s efforts to eliminate the differences between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said at a House hearing in May that the current sentencing policies are “hard to justify.”
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Wisconsin Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, both Democrats, made two recommendations Monday for U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, The Associated Press reported Monday. Assistant U.S. Attorney John W. Vaudreuil and former Assistant Attorney General Eric J. Wilson were selected from a list of four finalists, The AP reported.
AUSA Vaudreuil runs the Madison-based district’s criminal division. Vaudreuil has lectured at the University of Wisconsin Law School Since 1987, teaching evidence and trial advocacy. A senior litigation counsel, he’s also taught evidence and trial skills to prosecutors in the United States, Albania and the Czech Republic since 1992.
Wilson is a member of the white collar counseling and defense practice group at the Godfrey & Kahn law firm in Madison. Before joining Godfrey & Kahn, Wilson was an Assistant Attorney General at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, with dual responsibilities as a criminal prosecutor and chief antitrust attorney for the state of Wisconsin.
The other two finalists for the position — as determined by a Wisconsin nominating commission — were Michael Leffel, a partner with Foley & Lardner in Madison, and Frank D. Remington, an Assistant Attorney General at the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Madison attorney Michael Bauer and Monona attorney Pablo Carranza also applied to fill the position but were not selected by the commission.
Erik C. Peterson, who had been the U.S. Attorney since 2006, resigned June 7 to join the Wisconsin Department of Justice as a prosecutor in the criminal litigation unit. Stephen P. Sinnott was appointed acting United States Attorney on June 8.
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Solicitor General Elena Kagan will make her debut before the Supreme Court on Sept. 9, reports The BLT. She plans to argue Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, known as the “Hillary: The Movie” case.
Kagan will argue opposite former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, now a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He is representing Citizens United, the sponsors of the movie, which is harshly critical of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The BLT notes that, as SG under President George W. Bush, Olson once defended the law he now challenges: The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or “McCain-Feingold.”
The Supreme Court ordered oral arguments as it recessed for summer, sending shivers down the spines of supporters of campaign finance reform. They fear the Court has designs to overturn the ban on the use of corporate money for independent campaign expenditures.
While the movie was shown in theaters and on DVD, a mixed panel of federal district and appellate judges here in Washington dashed the group’s plans to advertise it on TV and release it via video-on-demand during Clinton’s presidential run. The judges ruled that the movie constituted an “electioneering communication” regulated under McCain-Feingold because it was funded by corporate money.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in March, betraying little until Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart acknowledged that the law could also be used to ban campaign-related books in some situations. Several justices appeared to disagree.
The briefs for the September arguments are due this week. This time around, the Court will consider whether to overturn Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and part of McConnell v. FEC.
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A Wisconsin nominating commission submitted four finalists for Western District U.S. Attorney today to Democratic Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, according to a news release.
The senators will then recommend candidates who President Obama should consider to replace U.S. Attorney Erik Peterson.
The commission’s finalists are:
-John Vaudreuil. He is an Assistant United States Attorney in charge of the Criminal Division for the Western District of Wisconsin. Since 1987, Vaudreuil has been a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin Law School, teaching evidence and trial advocacy. Since 1992, he has been a lecturer for the United States, teaching evidence and trial skills to prosecutors in the United States, Albania and the Czech Republic. In 1992, he was designated as Senior Litigation Counsel by the Department of Justice. (Biography from University of Wisconsin Law School)
-Michael Leffel. He is a partner with Foley & Lardner in Madison, and is a member of the firm’s general commercial litigation, consumer financial services, and appellate practices. Prior to joining Foley & Lardner, Leffel worked for Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, D.C., where his practice focused on commercial litigation. Leffel also served as a law clerk for Judge Karen Nelson Moore, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. (Biography from Foley & Lardner)
-Frank D. Remington. He is an Assistant Attorney General at the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Prior to joining the Wisconsin Department of Justice in 1988, Remington clerked with the Wisconsin Supreme Court and spent two years in private practice. He currently prosecutes Medicaid fraud and health care crimes for the Wisconsin DOJ. Remington is also active in the State Bar of Wisconsin, currently serving on the Board of Governors. (Biography from Wisconsin DOJ)
-Eric J. Wilson. He is an attorney in the litigation department and a member of the white collar counseling and defense practice group at the Godfrey & Kahn law firm in Madison. Prior to joining Godfrey & Kahn, he was an Assistant Attorney General at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, with dual responsibilities as a criminal prosecutor and chief antitrust attorney for the state of Wisconsin. (Biography from Godfrey & Kahn)
You can read our previous report on the recommendations made by Kohl and Feingold for Wisconsin’s Eastern District here.
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The US Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) is scheduled to vote this morning on the nomination of former voting section lawyer Hans Von Spakovsky to the State Advisory Committee for Virginia, reports TPMMuckraker.
The advisory committee is tasked with, as its name implies, advising the commission, which among other things, investigates complaints alleging that citizens are being deprived of their right to vote.
Spakovsky was actually hired by the commission last August as a consultant and temporary full-time employee at the behest of Commissioner Todd Gaziano. Gaziano told TPMMuckraker that he was also one of the people who recommended Spakovsky for the volunteer position with the advisory committee. Gaziano is the Director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and has served in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Spakovsky, you may recall, was a sidekick to the controversial former head of the Civil Rights Division, Bradley Schlozman, who caused an uproar with his partisan hiring practices. President Bush gave Spakovsky a recess appointment to the Federal Election Commission, but once the recess appointment expired, the Senate refused to confirm him. As a matter of fact, it was then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) that put a hold on his Senate confirmation proceeding, prompting Gaziano to call Obama’s opposition “nothing more than fear-mongering with potential liberal voters.”
Career Voting Section lawyers led by Joseph Rich, section chief from 1999 to 2005, wrote to Senate Rules Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and ranking member Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) alleging that Spakovsky “played a major role in the implementation of practices which injected partisan political factors into decision-making on enforcement matters and into the hiring process, and included repeated efforts to intimidate career staff.” You can find the letter here.
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A month ago, Attorney General Eric Holder testified before Congress that an internal Justice Department ethics report about the Bush administration torture-memo writers would be on his desk “soon.” Today, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Office of Professional Responsibility report would be completed in a “matter of weeks.”
Next month, will we hear the report — already four years in the making — is due “shortly?”
The delays, Holder testified today, are administrative and not political. The OPR has been revising the report to reflect input from the former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers under investigation for potential professional misconduct, Holder said. Those lawyers are Jay Bybee, Steven Bradbury and John Yoo. The lawyers had missed a May 4 deadline for responding to a draft of the report; apparently the DOJ gave them some extra time.
Holder told the committee:
“They are pretty close to getting to the end of their process. It was lengthened by the responses that they received from the people who are the subject of the investigation. [New OPR head Mary Patrice] Brown indicates that what they wanted to do was look at those responses and there are some changes they are making to the report in light of the contentions that were contained in the responses that they examined.”
“My hope is to share as much of that report as I can with members of Congress and the Public. There are some potentially classified portions of that report that I think we want to work to declassify because it has been expressed by the head of OPR and I agree with her that you can’t get the whole context for this report unless close to the entirety of this report is declassified.”
Meanwhile, 13 human rights organizations released a letter to Holder urging public release of the report. “By releasing the OPR report you will demonstrate the administration’s continuing commitment to transparency and openness,” said the letter, signed by the ACLU and other groups. “You will also help strengthen a proper understanding of the important role played by government lawyers serving the United States.”
At today’s hearing, Holder also defended his efforts to fight terrorism and restore the credibility of the Justice Department. But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the committee, was critical.
Sessions, who noted that he voted for Holder’s confirmation, said the Attorney General bowed to political pressure when he allowed the release of OLC memos that authorized the use of harsh interrogation methods against suspected terrorists. The ranking member said Holder’s moves are weakening efforts to fight terrorism.
“I am disappointed. I am worried,” Sessions said. “I think the American people aren’t happy with the agenda we are seeing.”
The Attorney General said in his opening statement that it is the “highest priority” of the Justice Department to guard Americans from terrorism.
“I am committed to continuing to build our capacity to deter, detect and disrupt terrorist plots and to indentify terrorist cells that would seek to do us harm,” Holder said in his opening statement.
Democrats and Republicans continued to push Holder for his position on several hot button issues including the state secrets privilege and warrantless wiretapping.
The Attorney General would not give his position on the state secrets bills that are going through the House and the Senate. He said the Justice Department will release a proposal on the bills “within days.” Earlier this month, Justice Department turned down an invitation to speak before a House Judiciary subcommittee on the state secrets privilege.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) prodded Holder on the legality of the warrantless wiretaps authorized under the Patriot Act. Holder said the wiretaps performed during the Bush administration were flawed and the DOJ is reviewing its use of the Patriot Act surveillence provision, which will expire at the end of this year without congressional action.
NOTE: This post has been revised since its original publication.
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Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin has been one of the Senate’s most passionate voices against Bush-era detention policies. But don’t expet the Illinois Democrat to use his chairmanship of a newly revived Senate Judiciary human rights subcommittee as a partisan bully pulpit.
Instead, Durbin said he will work with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to find common ground on an agenda. He’s taking the gavel of the subcommittee for a second time, after giving up chairmanship of the plum Judiciary crime subcommittee to party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.)
The human rights panel plans to address child soldiers, genocide, sexual violence and human trafficking — all concerns Coburn shares as well. In particular, conservatives and liberals have come together to fight international human trafficking, including the forced prostitution of women.
“While we had some legislative success, far more needs to be done,” Durbin said in a statement last month after he received the subcommittee gavel again. “We will continue to work on these and other issues as we try to ensure that America remains committed to human rights both at home and abroad.”
Coburn said he is please the subcommittee has been revived.
“We have a lot of issues we need to look at it,” Coburn said in an interview.
Tom Malinowski, Washington director for the Human Rights Watch which worked with the panel in the past, said he hopes the reestablished subcommittee will continue the work it did in the last Congress that led to the enactment of the Genocide Accountability Act and the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, which targeted world leaders who engaged in severe human rights abuses.
He said that while the subcommittee tackled many weighty issues, it avoided some topics that could have caused severe divisions between subcommittee Democrats and Republicans, such as the Bush administration’s policies on indefinite prisoner detentions, which Durbin openly criticized.
“Durbin made a point of choosing issues that Sen. Coburn was interested in working on,” Malinowski said.
Helping the senators to develop an agenda will be majority chief counsel Joseph Zogby and minority chief counsel Brooke Bacak. Zogby was previously the chief counsel for the human rights and the law subcommittee and then served the brief stint as Durbin’s chief counsel on crime and drugs subcommittee. Mary Harned previously held the minority post.
The Justice Department will also continue to work with the subcommittee. During the 110th Congress, members of the Civil and Criminal divisions often testified before the subcommittee.
“We look forward to working with the subcommittee on human rights and the law on the important issues it may address,” DOJ spokesperson Alejandro Miyar wrote in an e-mail.
Although there will be some familiar faces working with the subcommittee, not all the subcommittee members from the 110th Congress have rejoined the panel.
There were six Democrats and five Republicans on the subcommittee in the 110th Congress. Now, joining Durbin and Coburn will be four Democrats and two Republicans – Sens. Specter (D-Pa.), Russ Feingold (D- Wisc.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) Graham and Sen. John McCain sponsored legislation in 2005 that would have banned the harsh interrogation methods used against suspected terrorists.
Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) are missing from the subcommittee because they no longer sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Also, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) will not return to the panel.
The decision of Specter to leave the Republican Party led to the reestablishment of the subcommittee in May, after Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) disbanded the two-year-old panel in February.
“With the change of administrations, and the transition to this new Congress, we are not continuing the subcommittee,” Leahy said in testimony before the Judiciary Committee in February. “No one should confuse that with a lack of commitment to the human rights agenda.”
The subcommittee was the loser in a game of musical chairs.
Biden was the chair of the crime and drugs subcommittee in the 110th Congress. He relinquished his gavel to Durbin after becoming vice president. The Illinois senator then had to give up his human rights and the law subcommittee chairmanship because Democratic rules didn’t allow him to hold more than one Judiciary subcommittee gavel.
Durbin, in turn, relinquished his crime and drugs subcommittee to Specter in May. He’d held hearings on sentencing dispairities between federal crack and powder cocaine offenses and Mexican drug cartels before handing the gavel to Specter. Durbin said his said the move was not meant to appease the long-serving Pennsylvanian, who’d been stripped of his seniority by the Democratic caucus after switching parties.
“I raised this issue long before feathers were ruffled,” Durbin said at a pen-and-pad session with reporters in May.
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