Ashcroft Hits the AstroTurf

Coming soon to your local newspaper: The U.S. Department of Justice has taken to churning out prewritten op-ed pieces in support of mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.
Under the fearless leadership of Attorney General John Ashcroft, the U.S. Department of Justice has taken to churning out prewritten op-ed pieces in support of mandatory minimum sentencing requirements and pitching them to local newspapers, over the signatures of local U.S. attorneys, reports the Drug Reform Coordination Network.

Ashcroft's full-throttle "AstroTurfing" (pseudo-grassroots) campaign comes in response to a growing discontent with the man-min sentencing structure, voiced by several federal judges, including Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy – and, more recently, a June 24 Supreme Court decision (Blakley v. Washington), in which the court opined that juries, not judges, must decide the facts of a case if those facts may result in a longer sentence.

The DOJ's bolstering campaign was outed earlier this month by the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, after the "model" op-ed turned up in three different newspapers. And last week DRCNet spotted the same piece – which warns that the high court's Blakley decision jeopardizes "the safety of America" – in three Tennessee newspapers, signed by two different U.S. attorneys.

Weed Watch

Meanwhile, the Nevada Supreme Court has declined a motion filed by the Marijuana Policy Project, which asked the court to force federal drug czar John Walters to account for all taxpayer money he spent in 2002 stumping in the Silver State against a ballot initiative that sought to decriminalize possession of up to 3 oz. of marijuana.

The MPP argued that Walters' visits to the state were in clear violation of the 1939 Hatch Act, which regulates the political activities of government officials. Further, Walters refused to comply with Nevada's election expenditure reporting requirements and was chastised by the state's attorney general for his "disturbing" interference in the state vote.

Nonetheless, Walters was allowed to circumvent the law after the AG opined that Walters would likely prevail in court. On Aug. 18, the state's highest court confirmed that opinion in a one-paragraph order.
Jordan Smith is a staff writer at the Austin Chronicle.
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