Criminal justice reform bill hinges on amendments

CongressA criminal justice reform bill cleared a major hurdle Monday when the Senate voted 82-12 to end debate, clearing the way for senators to try to pass the bill as soon as today, The Hill reports. However, its fate rests on several amendments sought by Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton. Politico says the changes Cotton is pushing along with Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) could derail the “fragile compromise” with Democrats on the bill. Democratic Senators Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii say Cotton’s amendments undo the bill’s provisions and are designed to kill it. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a former federal prosecutor, calls the Republican amendments a “poison pill.” President Trump has endorsed the measure, which is designed to reform prisons and sentencing laws.

The new wave of criminal justice reform

defendant acquitted felony courtroom verdict

A bipartisan criminal justice reform bill backed by President Trump may yet have a difficult time being passed by Congress, according to CNBC. The bill could save the federal government millions of dollars by reducing thousands of prison sentences. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, contributed to a column in USA Today backing criminal justice reform. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stands in the bill’s way. Time notes that the bill has strong conservative support, including the backing of billionaire Charles Koch. The New York Times editorial board has also expressed support.

Meanwhile, across the country, a new wave of district attorneys is bringing about criminal justice reform on the local level. The Washington Post profiles district attorneys like Mark Gonzalez of Corpus Christi, Texas, a self-styled “Mexican biker lawyer” who’s one of several progressive prosecutors pushing for reform. The Post also mentions Wesley Bell of Ferguson, Missouri, Larry Krasner of Philadelphia and Kim Foxx of Chicago as some of the district and state attorneys seeking to overhaul the criminal justice system.

Manafort’s lawyers back in court

Paul ManafortAttorneys for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort will be back in court, one week after he was found guilty on eight counts. Manafort faces a second trial in Washington, DC that’s set to start September 17. While Manafort awaits sentencing on the earlier convictions, he won’t be appearing in court this time. CNN reports his lawyers will be arguing against asking potential jurors whether they voted in the 2016 election. Manafort faces seven criminal charges in the upcoming trial. Then on Wednesday, prosecutors will state whether they intend to seek another trial on the ten charges in which the jury couldn’t reach a verdict.

Trump’s trouble with ‘flippers’

Donald J. TrumpPresident Trump doesn’t care much for so-called ‘flippers’ like his former attorney Michael Cohen. The president said “it almost ought to be illegal” for a person who’s accused of a crime to signal a willingness to help investigators. In an opinion piece on TheHill.com, former federal prosecutor Gregory Wallance writes that flippers have helped convict “some of the most notorious criminals and corrupt politicians in American history.” But he’s more concerned that Trump’s comments are part of an assault on the rule of law that erodes the public’s confidence in law enforcement.

The president and due process

Donald J. TrumpPresident Trump’s tweets about due process for two men formerly on his staff accused of domestic violence reveals a misunderstanding of how due process works, according to a legal analyst at CNN. Caroline Polisi says Trump’s refusal to acknowledge victims of alleged abuse reveal that his defense is really all about himself.

In this aftermath of #MeToo, it is critically important to make the distinction between courts of law and courts of public opinion. Trump’s conflation of the two by way of a disingenuous appeal to “Due Process” is a commonly used, but ultimately dangerous argument, because it damages our collective understanding of the issues, both legal and otherwise.

Due process applies to governmental action, Polisi says, not to the news media, political races or social media. The due process rights owed to the accused are “alive and well in our justice system. They are thriving, in fact,” according to Polisi. Her complete commentary is available here.

Can a sitting president be indicted?

Donald J. TrumpAs the White House debates whether to allow President Trump to be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, legal scholars are debating another issue: can you indict a president while he or she is still in office? The Office of Legal Counsel, of course, says you can’t. But is Mueller bound by that opinion, or will he disregard it? Former White House Counsel Bob Bauer writes at Lawfare that constitutional arguments against indicting a president are problematic. Click here to read his opinion.