Friday, July 06, 2007

Clarification please...

Christy at FDL shares with us Judge Walton's comments on the implications of the commuting of Libby's sentence:
In case you were wondering how truly unusual it is for a President to swiftly commute the prison term of a loyal minion (via NYTimes) in an effort to continue to obstruct justice, wonder no more (via Sentencing Law blog):

On July 2, 2007, the President of the United States commuted the term of incarceration imposed on the defendant by the Court, “leaving intact and in effect the two-year term of supervised release, with all its conditions, and all other components of the sentence.” Grant of Executive Clemancy at 1. It has been brought to the Court’s attention that the United States Probation Office for the District of Columbia intends to contact the defendant imminantly to require him to begin his term of supervised release. Strictly construed, the statute authorizing the imposition of supervised release indicates that such release should occur only after the defendant has already served a term of imprisonment. 18 USC Sec. 3583(a) (stating that the defendant “[may] be placed on a term of supervised release after imprisonment”) (emphasis added). That is, despite the President’s direction that the defendant’s prison sentence be commuted and his term of supervised release remain intact…Sec. 3583 does not appear to contemplate a situation in which the defendant may be placed under supervised release without first completing a term of incarceration.

In other words, Reggie has taken the President and his bumfuzzled legal advisors to the statutory woodshed for their sloppy reading of the law. And this President, who has grown so used to doing as he pleases without anyone questioning his authority, has just been given a small lesson in “strict construction” by a conservative jurist who holds the rule of law to actually mean something beyond an inconvience that the President can disregard at will.

It is the footnote on page two of the opinion that really brings this home:

If either party believes that it would be helpful to solicit clarification from the White House regarding the President’s position on the proper interpretation of Sec. 3583 in light of his Grant of Executive Clemancy, they are encouraged to do so.

Shorter Judge Walton: clean up your own damned mess, George, because I’m not covering for you.

[...]

The one good thing that may come from this entire mess is that we have needed to have a discussion about the sentencing guidelines for a long time — that President Bush opened the door to that discussion with blatant favoritism for a political crony as a reward for his obstruction of justice is appalling. That Judge Walton is doing his part to make certain that the President and his legal toadies understand that they don’t get to construct the laws they want out of thin air, cobwebs, and Presidential edict is a good start.

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