House Republicans Tuesday blasted Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department for virtually ignoring the law in cases including criminal sentencing and the legalization of marijuana.
Holder, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, declared both the president and attorney general have "a vast amount" of discretion in prosecuting laws on the books, The Hill
"But that discretion has to be used in an appropriate way so that your acting consistent with the aims of the statute but at the same time making sure that you are acting in a way that is consistent with our values, consistent with the Constitution and protecting the American people," he said.
But committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., reamed Holder's reasoning, saying such "selective non-enforcement" is tantamount to ignoring the law.
"The Justice Department’s decision not to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in states whose laws violate federal law is not a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion, but a formal department-wide policy of selective non-enforcement of an Act of Congress," Goodlatte said.
Under Holder’s"Smart on Crime" initiative, the Justice Department has changed charging policies involving mandatory minimum sentences
for certain nonviolent, low-level drug crimes.
"This commonsense change will ensure that the toughest penalties are reserved for the most dangerous or violent drug traffickers," Holder explained.
Goodlatte countered, however, that the changes put federal prosecutors at odds with the law.
"The attorney general’s directive, along with contradicting an act of Congress, puts his own front-line prosecutors in the unenviable position of either defying their boss or violating their oath of candor to the court," he said.
The Hill noted committee Democrats are in favor of the changes, with Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, the panel's top Democrat, pointing out almost half of all federal inmates are serving time for drug offenses.
Holder also came under fire from Republicans for the Obama administration's much-debated decision to delay the Obamacare employer mandate,
getting into a terse exchange with Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, who maintained the executive branch had no authority to delay the mandate.
"When Congress puts effective dates in laws, do we need to further state that the effective date cannot be waived or modified by the executive branch, or is the president required to follow the law, and also follow the dates set by Congress?" Chabot asked.
"The president has the duty, obviously, to follow the law," Holder responded, but added"it would depend on the statute" and statutory interpretation of the law.
Holder said the Department of Justice provided legal analysis to the administration regarding the delay, but that his agency doesn’t discuss those arguments publicly.
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