In Dicta

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Sensenbrenner's folly

I hadn't had a chance to blog about this story in the Chicago Tribune the other day, but its still worth noting:

"In an extraordinary move, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee privately demanded last month that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago change its decision in a narcotics case because he didn't believe a drug courier got a harsh enough prison term.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), in a five-page letter dated June 23 to Chief Judge Joel Flaum, asserted that a June 16 decision by a three-judge appeals court panel was wrong.

He demanded "a prompt response" as to what steps Flaum would take "to rectify the panel's actions" in a case where a drug courier in a Chicago police corruption case received a 97-month prison sentence instead of the at least 120 months required by a drug-conspiracy statute.

"Despite the panel's unambiguous determination that the 97-month sentence was illegal, it appears to ... justify the sanctioning of both the illegal sentence and its own failure to [increase the sentence] by stating `[that the panel's decision] not to take a cross-appeal [ensures] that the [courier's] sentence cannot be increased.' The panel cites no authority for this bizarre proposition and I am aware of none," wrote Sensenbrenner, who cited a 1992 ruling as precedent for his argument that the longer prison term should have been imposed.

"I ask that all necessary and appropriate measures be taken, whether by members of the panel and/or by the other judges of the court, to ensure that the [1992] precedent ... is followed," said the congressman, who heads a committee with budgetary oversight of the judiciary.

Jay Apperson, the congressional counsel who brought the ruling to Sensenbrenner's attention, added: "We can't have judges violating the law."

Flaum declined comment on the situation, saying he does not publicly discuss matters pending before the court.

He sent a letter back to Sensenbrenner saying it was inappropriate to comment on a pending case. But the panel amended its ruling to cite a Supreme Court case that showed Sensenbrenner was wrong.

Apperson, who is chief counsel of a House Judiciary subcommittee, argues that Sensenbrenner is simply exercising his judicial oversight responsibilities. But some legal experts believe the action by the Judiciary Committee chairman, who is an attorney, is a violation of House ethics rules, which prohibit communicating privately with judges on legal matters, as well as court rules that bar such contact with judges without contacting all parties."

This is simply amazing. Aren't there three independent branches of government? Maybe Mr. Sensenbrenner needs a lesson in American Government 101.


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