Justice Kennedy Discusses the Price of Punishment

Post Date: October 30, 2013

Justice Kennedy

Justice Kennedy speaks out against mandatory minimums at the University of California Washington Center.

(Tampa Bay Times) — Want to know one of the greatest unrecognized injustices, in the view of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy? Overly harsh criminal sentences.

You read that right. The Reagan-appointed justice thinks America’s criminal justice system is not working and too costly. “I think you have to look at rehabilitation and alternative punishments,” Kennedy told a group of students at the University of California Washington Center during a conversation this month moderated by Jess Bravin of the Wall Street Journal.

The justice is not alone. Attorney General Eric Holder recently told federal prosecutors to stop subjecting low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to harsh mandatory minimum sentences, calling the current system “broken.”

But hearing Kennedy offer up progressive views is a hopeful sign. He sits at the fulcrum of the Supreme Court as aswing vote, more often than not siding with the four conservative justices when the court is divided. On criminal justice, he’s sounding more MSNBC than Fox.

Kennedy’s views are informed by decades of watching the federal courts overrun by drug cases. At an astronomical cost, nearly half the 200,000 federal inmates are there for drug-related crimes – largely low-level people with addictions, not kingpins. Read more