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Public Statements

Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


GANG DETERRENCE AND COMMUNITY PROTECTION ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - May 11, 2005)

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Mr. PAUL. Mr. Chairman, the Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act, (H.R. 1279), is the latest example of Congress disregarding its constitutional limitations in the name of "getting tough on crime." Gang crime is certainly a serious issue in many parts of the country. However, unless criminal gangs are engaging in counterfeiting, treason, or piracy, the federal government has no jurisdiction over the criminal activities of gangs. In fact, by creating new federal crimes related to gang activities, but unrelated to one of the federal crimes enumerated in the Constitution, the new federal crimes and enhanced penalties in this bill usurp state and local authority.

H.R. 1279 broadly defines "criminal street gangs" and "gang activity." This is a major expansion of Federal criminal jurisdiction. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, two men who no one has ever accused of being "soft on crime," have both warned that, although creating more Federal crimes may make politicians feel good, it is neither constitutionally sound nor prudent. Rehnquist has stated that, "[t]he trend to federalize crimes that traditionally have been handled in state courts ..... threatens to change entirely the nature of our federal system." Meese stated that Congress's tendency in recent decades to make federal crimes out of offenses that have historically been state matters has dangerous implications both for the fair administration of justice and for the principle that states are something more than mere administrative districts of a nation governed mainly from Washington.

Those who want the American criminal justice system to actually deliver justice should oppose H.R. I279 because it imposes "mandatory minimum" sentences for certain gang-related crimes. Mandatory minimum sentences impose a "one-size-fits-all" formula in place of the discretion of a judge, or jury, to weigh all the circumstances surrounding an individual's crime and decide on an appropriate punishment. Taking away judicial discretion over sentencing may represent a legislative usurpation of areas properly left to the judiciary. I have long been critical of judicial usurpation of legislative functions, and have introduced legislation using Congress's constitutional powers to rein in the judiciary. However, I recognize that Congress must make sure it does not overstep its constitutional authority by imposing legislative solutions on matters best resolved by the judicial branch.

Mandatory minimums almost guarantee unjust sentences. Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Reverend Kerry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA, summed it up well in a letter to Congress opposing this bill: "..... rigid sentencing formulations could prevent judges from properly assessing an individual's culpability during the crime of other factors that have bearing on recidivism, thus sometimes resulting in harsh and inappropriate sentences."

I am also concerned that removing authority over the prevention and punishment of gang crimes from state and local jurisdictions will prevent states and localities from coming up with innovative ways to prevent gang crimes. Gangs flourish for a multitude of reasons, and no federal "one-size-fits-all" program can address all the causes of gang crimes. States and localities should be left free to create the gang prevention and punishment programs that best meet their unique needs.

Supporters of this bill make a good point that federal money is being wasted on ineffective "prevention" programs like the infamous "midnight basketball" program. However, H.R. 1279 in no way reduces funding for ineffective prevention programs. Instead, it spends more taxpayer money on unconstitutional crime programs. The sponsors of this bill could have attempted to stop wasting taxpayer funds on programs such as midnight basketball by defunding such prevention programs and using the funds to pay for the new programs created by H.R. 1279.

Finally, I must oppose this bill because it expands the Federal death penalty. While I recognize that nothing in the Constitution forbids Federal, State, or local governments from imposing a death penalty, I have come to the conclusion that a consistent pro-life position requires opposition to any legislation imposing a Federal death penalty for unconstitutional Federal crimes. Mr. Speaker, I do not advocate Federal action to stop individual States from imposing a death penalty, I simply oppose compounding the damage done by creating new Federal crimes by making those crimes subject to a Federal death penalty.

H.R. 1279 exceeds Congress's constitutional authority by creating new Federal crimes, thus further burdening the already overwhelmed Federal judiciary system and taking another step toward upending our constitutional system by turning the States into administrative districts of the Federal Government. This bill also creates unwise mandatory minimum sentences, usurping the sentencing decisions of judges and juries. Finally, H.R. 1279 raises serious moral issues by expanding the use of the Federal death penalty. Therefore, I must oppose H.R. 1279 and urge my colleagues to do same.

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