Pubdate: Thu, 17 Jan 2013
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2013 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Stephen Dinan
Page: A3
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Judiciary Panel Chief Sees Risk to Civil Liberties From Drones

The longest-serving Democrat in the Senate on Wednesday called for 
scrapping mandatory minimum sentences at both the federal and state 
levels, and said he wants Congress to take a critical look at the way 
U.S. law enforcement agencies use drones.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy also said his major 
priority for the beginning of the new Congress will be overhauling 
immigration laws, and he announced hearings next month - adding 
momentum to an issue that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has 
already identified as the top priority.

"Our nation relies on immigrants. We have to find a way through the 
partisan gridlock to enact meaningful change on immigration laws, and 
that should include a path to citizenship," Mr. Leahy said in a 
speech laying out his agenda for the new year to students at 
Georgetown University Law Center.

He listed renewing the Violence Against Women Act and taking some 
action on guns as other top priorities, but veered from his prepared 
remarks to take particular aim at the proliferation of drones used in 
law enforcement.

"This fast-emerging technology is cheap, but I think just because 
it's available doesn't mean it helps. I think there could be a 
significant threat to the privacy and civil liberties," he said.

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Leahy has the power to 
call hearings to examine both sentencing and drones and to write 
legislation controlling them. He told reporters after his speech that 
he didn't have specific legislation in mind, but said the issue will 
draw his attention.

He compared it to "the dumb idea" of having the enhanced-screening 
machines at airports, which he said amount to an invasion of privacy.

"I'm afraid these drones may become the same thing," he said.

Mr. Leahy also diverted from his prepared remarks to strongly condemn 
mandatory minimum sentences at all levels, calling them "a great 
mistake" that hurts youths and minorities.

"I think at the federal level and at the state level, get rid of 
these mandatory minimum sentences. Let judges act as judges and make 
up their own mind what should be done," he said. "The idea that we 
protect society by one size fits all, or the idea that we can do this 
kind of symbolism to make us safer - it just does not work in the real world."

Mr. Leahy had the chance to become chairman of the Appropriations 
Committee, which is usually considered the most powerful panel in the 
Senate, but he turned that down to remain at the helm of the 
Judiciary Committee.

In answering questions from law students, Mr. Leahy also said he will 
seek clarification from the administration as to how it plans to 
enforce federal drug laws in the face of states such as Colorado and 
Washington, which have moved to legalize marijuana use.

"My own predilection is, I hate to see a great deal of law 
enforcement resources spent on things like the possession, use of 
marijuana when we have murder cases, armed robbery cases, things like 
that that go unsolved," he said.

Any steps on gun control also will go through Mr. Leahy's committee, 
and he said he thinks some steps are likely, adding that he would 
back closing the loophole that allows private gun transactions to go 
through without a background check.

He also said there's no need for high-capacity ammunition magazines, 
and pointed to Vermont, which has a strong tradition of gun rights 
but also has a rule limiting hunters using semiautomatic rifles to 
just six rounds of ammunition during deer-hunting seasons.

"Are we really saying as a nation we're going to be more protective 
of the deer than we are of our children? I think not," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom