The Plank

Obama, Clinton On Crack

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A recap: The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently decided to (slightly) reduce the over-inflated prison sentences for crack-cocaine crimes, which are punished far more harshly than equivalent powder-cocaine crimesa nonsensical disparity that's accomplished little save for prison bloat. Then, yesterday, the commission voted unanimously to apply those guidelines retroactively, affecting some 20,000 current inmates. It's a modest chink in the incarceration state, but hey, it's something.

Now, Barack Obama had favored making the reduced sentences retroactiveafter all, if crack penalties were absurdly high, then they were absurdly high for people already convicted. But Hillary Clinton, quaking at the thought of Rudy Giuliani saying mean things about her, opposed retroactivity. And now her campaign is attacking Obama on his stance, although Marc Ambinder serves up some sweet, sweet caveats:

Campaign aides have said that Obama's support for retroactivity in drug sentences would kill him with tough-on-crime white independents. But the Supreme Court, in a 7 to 2 decision yesterday that included Antonin Scalia, endorsed the view that judges could ignore sentencing guidelines when handing down prison terms for distributing crack versus powder cocaine, and a Bush administration panel today voted seven to nothing to impose retroactivity.

Sounds like an inspiring campaign theme: Hillary Clintonto the right of Antonin Scalia on a drug war that's cost $500 billion with little to show for it.

--Bradford Plumer

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